Tag Archives: paddling

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

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

Paddling to the Podium in the City with the Heart of Gold

Welcome to another edition of ‘Where the heck is Steve, and what is he racing in this time?’ Well, the briefest of answers to that question is that I was in Timmins, Ontario racing in the Great Canadian Kayak Challenge, and covering said event for Get Out There Magazine. I have to admit right off the bat that this event was not on my radar earlier this year, and I didn’t really have the intention of making that kind of trip. However, when a cancellation came up, and it was offered up to me, I decided: What the heck? Why not? I like paddling, and I like traveling, so why not combine them together? And so this trip was hatched. Sadly, it would be a solo trip for me this time around, as I was flying up, and Deanna had other plans. I didn’t have time to snap too many pictures, but I did put together a whiz-bang video review once again, so please check it out! The trip was also a pretty much in-and-out kinda trip, so I couldn’t play tourist as much as I’d hoped.

Right off the bat, I was faced with a few annoyances about my trip. I had booked the tickets months back, and even 12 hours before departure, my flight was confirmed AND I was checked in. Arriving at the airport at 6:40am, I learn my flight was cancelled from Ottawa to Toronto. Grrr. So, instead of arriving by 11:30am, I’d be touching down well after 6pm. Not only that, but due to work commitments, I was forced to stay in the airport all day and work over free wi-fi and take conference calls. Not ideal. I could have driven up quicker than the time it actually took me to get there. Oh well, I’d rather they ground a plane with mechanical issues than put me on it I suppose!

Pictures from the Trip


On arrival, I went straight to my hotel, the Cedar Meadows Resort, which had offered up special room rates and was only a couple kilometers from the event. I had opted to not rent a car, instead relying on the ‘sneaker express’. By Sunday, I walked the 4.6km round trip walk to the event grounds 4 times, including carrying all my paddling and filming gear with me. In the future, I’ll just spring for the rental. After all, just the taxi to and from the hotel cost me $50, while a car rental would have only been about $65 taxes in! Oh well, live and learn. Plus, I actually like the fresh air and walking around places to get a feel for them. The hotel itself was pretty nice for the price. My room even had its own fireplace for ambiance should I wish to get romantic with myself (no smart comments on that one!)

I wandered into town to see the race venue and grab a bite to eat at Boston Pizza (side note: BP is quickly going the East Side Mario route to me, meaning AVOID). Washed my meal down with a beer, and wandered back to hotel. The kayak race was more of a festival, and while paddling was a central theme, it was by far not the only thing going this weekend. There were events for the whole family all weekend, and the town is rapidly turning this into THE biggest yearly event in Timmins, and I must say, I think they are on the right track promoting healthy living in this way.

Next morning, I arrived on site pretty early, as I had to pick up a boat I was borrowing for the race. I had reached out to Shawn from Timmins Adventure Tours in the lead-up, and he had graciously offered up a craft for me to use. Shawn runs a number of businesses, including a paddling outfitter, tackle shop, and lots of other outdoor products. He is a really energetic guy, and also runs the local boxing club. It was great meeting him and chatting about life in Timmins. Plus, when he learned I was racing in the ‘elite’ division, he didn’t hesitate to pull down his very own racing boat to loan. Once he was convinced I wasn’t a total amateur, I was off. If you’re in Timmins, and need some gear for outdoor pursuits, make Shawn and his folks your first stop! He’ll go out of his way to help, and with a smile.

The Great Canadian Kayak Challenge is not one event, but a whole slew of events, starting with the Elite 35km Challenge starting at 9am Saturday, and ending with sprint events on Sunday afternoon, and all distances between. I was in the 2nd most competitive event, the ‘elite recreational’ 16km race departing at 10am. This one of the few races I’ve entered that actually has a healthy purse, with prize money awarded in pretty much every single race 5-deep for both men and women. It added an interesting dimension to the front of the race. Obviously, my eye was on victory, but it wasn’t long before I was humbled in the water, and realized that there are people that paddle more than 4 times in a season and actually focus on paddling. That being said, I did have a good race.

Although the raw numbers in each event were pretty low, the overall participation has been steadily going up every year in this events’ 5-year history, and should continue to grow. Especially given all the media exposure they are getting. While I was considered ‘media’ as well, there were tons of others there, including live-to-satellite coverage from Eastlink. There was also a HUGE production crew of professionals shooting for Ontario Tourism for the purpose of commercials. They had a really expensive drone in the air covering the race, as well as boat crews with fancy water-ready camera gear in the thick of it. I’m sure they’ll distill their hours of footage into 15 seconds as part of a bigger commercial, but WOW! Talk about a big crew. I was a small fish out there. On the plus side, there WAS a ‘media boat’ so I got to go out for a cruise on my own on a party boat to do some filming, which was fun. Right, how about the race? Let’s get back to that.

As is usual in events like this, racers were sort of sizing each other up by looking at the boats and gear of everyone. Seeing the camera on my head, I was asked if I was actually racing or just filming. I assured them I was racing, hence my fancy paddle and gear. There may have only been 7 men in my grouping, but they were all pretty well kitted and proficient. When the starting gun went off promptly at 10am, we took off in a hurry under a blazing hot sun. I’d taken 1L of hydration, but ran out about 2/3rds through the race. Not long after the start, the front 2 guys in Epic boats were already building a big lead on the rest of us. In the first 4k of the race, I was in a nice little grouping of 4 guys (including me) and 1 lady. We tried to do a little drafting and staying together. I secretly hoped they’d gone out too fast, but it turns out that might have been me! I found I had to push hard just to stay with them. Eventually 1 guy and the lady pulled away, leaving me in a group of 3 guys.

I started falling back a little bit and worried for my chances. I was now sitting in 6th place, which was off the podium, and in my mind, unacceptable. I wanted to bring honour to Shawn for lending me his nice Stratus to race in. Our first part of the race was downriver, with the wind at our backs. Once we hit the buoy turnaround, the refreshing wind hit our faces, and the real work began. Essentially, we paddled 2.5k downriver, then 9k upriver, only to turn another buoy and finish the race with a 5.5k downriver run. Anyway, now that the wind was in my face, I started feeling a bit more refreshed and energized. I slowly but surely starting eating into the lead the guy ahead of me had. Eventually, I overtook him. That put me in 5th place. I set my sights on 4th and stayed focused.

He seemed to always stay just out of reach. Another 5k or so of paddling, and I was surprised by a flash of yellow on my right. Dude I had passed got a fresh set of arms and passed me! Turns out, his shoulder had been hurt, but he popped it back in and found his mojo (or so I learned after the finish)! Filled with fire again, I charged after him to try and keep up. After all, I had already passed him, so why was I losing ground? The good news is that this effort actually caught us up to 4th place, which my guy then handily passed too! Of course, as you can imagine, this ignited the other dudes’ fires, and he pressed on hard. By this time, we had just made the final turn, and had the 5.5k downriver finish run to do. That worried me, as I seemed to lose ground downriver.

Not giving an inch though, I kept paddling hard, determined to get back to 5th place. The real challenge now was that I was over-heating and had run out of water. I’d have to dig deep and enter the pain cave to pull this off. It seems a little silly to have such a perceived battle for 5th, but that’s the way the competitive spirit works, right? Mustering what I could, I found a good cadence and kept at it. However, when I finally got broadside of this fellow, he also turned up the jets, pulling slightly ahead again. I wasn’t until the final bend in the river, with about 500m to go, that I found an opportunity again.

I took the inside corner, pulling up broadside once again. Only this time, I decided to go for broke. I put on the blinders and put everything I had into my final sprint. I’m not an adept paddler, and am not really sure how to execute a sprint, but I tried anyway. I hunched over, dug my paddle deep in the water, and went into the redzone, complete with audible grunting and breathlessness. It worked, and I pulled ahead and stayed ahead by a couple boatlengths, just to take that final podium place! My little group of 3 all congratulated each other on a well-fought race, and then essentially went our separate ways. There were no hard feelings, as we had all worked hard for that final part of the race. In fact, the guy did comment that it was fun pushing to keep up with me!

Although my race was over before noon, the overall awards wouldn’t be until 5pm that day, so I spent the rest of my day hanging around the festival grounds taking it all in. As mentioned, I also went out for a cruise to watch a 5k race in progress. Eventually, I walked back to the hotel to shower and change before heading back for the awards. Once back onsite, I helped myself to some BBQ grub as well as a couple celebratory malted beverages. Although clouds had started rolling in, the weather was still thankfully holding out. This was a good thing, as later that evening, the party was set to start up, with live bands, a big beer gardens, and fireworks! I collected my medal and award with a big smile, and stuck around a little longer for draw prizes. At one point, my name was called for a camp chair, but I decided to just pretend I wasn’t there. After all, checking the chair with my luggage would cost more than it was worth!

After the awards were over, I made an impulsive decision to pamper myself in the early evening. How so? Well, my hotel was called Cedar Meadows Resort and SPA for a reason. The spa portion was actually a Nordic baths kinda deal, like Le Nordik in Chelsea. For a mere $25+tax, I had full access to all the facilities. Seemed like a plan to me, seeing as I didn’t really know anyone, and the first few bands back at the festival were going to be country-oriented. Once back at the hotel, I spent the next 2.5 hours alternating between hot treatments, cold treatments, and relaxation. It was pretty awesome. When I finally dragged myself out and had a shower, I felt super relaxed and my skin was all squeaky clean. I should also mention that earlier in the day I had also opted for a free chiropractic treatment. A spine adjustment if you will. So all told, I was mellow and relaxed.

The thought of heading back to a rowdy beer gardens didn’t quite appeal, so I decided instead to stick around the resort, and just head out for a solo nature walk to check out the fireworks. I’ve gotta say, they were actually really good. Much bigger than I had expected from a relatively small town. Even from the resort, I could hear the bands raging on, and could only imagine the quantities of beer being consumed down there! I was quite happy to buy a bit of junk food, retreat back to my room and watch ‘The Dark Knight’ on TV. I’d had a good day, and didn’t want the end of my trip to involve elbowing my way through drunk locals!

The next morning, I got up at a reasonable hour, and headed down to the hotel gym for a nice treadmill run. Why treadmill? Well, it was pouring cats and dogs outside, and I didn’t feel like running in the cold and wet, only to pack my wet clothes into my bag for the flight home. I put in a good hour and a half, showered, then treated myself to a great brunch buffet in the restaurant before grabbing a cab and heading home. All in all, a great weekend experience, and frankly, if I was a paddler with a family, I think that this event would make a great destination race for the closing days of summer. The atmosphere was very family friendly, the river very forgiving for a paddler, and just the right distance away to make it feel like a worthy road trip! For me however, it wasn’t the last race of the summer. 2 weeks to go till my final event, a 65km trail running race with 2,000+m of climbing! Check back in a while for that report.

Video Review of the Event

Lazy Summer Days, and Changes…

Goofing Around

Good day my dear readers. If you have been a longtime follower of my blog, you may wonder where I’ve been in the past month, and if in fact I’m just eating bon-bons and kicking back through the summer. Well, quite the contrary my friends! Things have been as busy as ever, which is why there has been a marked lack of blog updates. In the past while I’ve had a lovely Canada Day paddling adventure, gone to the States for the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race (don’t worry, that’ll be a whole post!), changed jobs, worked on gear reviews, saw my sister and family off on a new adventure to Belgium (for the next 4 years!) AND worked on wedding preparations! Yup, I (and the ever-lovely Deanna) have been quite busy indeed, but this short post should at least serve to bring you up to speed on our latest adventures. As usual, you can find most of my pictures on flickr shortly after events, and also, Deanna is becoming a bit of a shutterbug and has her own flickr account now too! So twice the photos! Read on now for a taste of recent events.

You may have picked up on a couple ‘life events’ in that opening paragraph. Firstly, yes, we had to bid a ‘bon voyage’ to my sister Andrea and the entire family, including cool niece Helena and cool nephew Julien. They are headed over to Brussels to work at NATO for the next 4-5 years. At the moment, it is just Andrea working there, but it looks like Patrick may also get a gig there! Pretty cool to have a nice central European base of operations should we wish to head over for a visit. We’ll miss them alot, but possible Christmas plans for 2014 are already in the works. We wish them all the best and look forward to seeing them back here in October for the BIG WEDDING 🙂

Next up, the new job. Yes, I finally decided to loosen the ‘golden handcuffs’ of public service and head back into the private sector. Ostensibly, and officially, I’m on a ‘leave of absence’, but I highly doubt I’ll return. I’m already having far too much fun getting me feet wet, up to my elbows, and all those other metaphors. What am I doing? Well, I’ve become the Director of Engineering at a small boutique consulting firm, Nordicity Group Limited. We deal in various industries, mainly cultural and telecoms / ICT, and the Ottawa office is all about telecom stuff, and I’m their head technical guy. Pretty cool gig, if not high pressure. But with pressure comes profile, and I have no doubt I’ll be able to carve myself a nice niche there in the coming years!

Canada Day Paddling Adventures

Rewinding the clock just a bit, I did want to chat about an awesome paddling adventure Deanna and I made on Canada Day this year. Our tradition the past few years has been paddling on the Ottawa river and watching the fireworks. However, this year, we opted to head to Trenton to visit and spend time with family. As you all know me, I wasn’t going to be content merely sitting around drinking beers. A couple years back, Deanna mentioned she’d always wanted to paddle the Trent-Severn Waterway, which I filed in my mind. So, for the weekend, I suggested we spend a solid day out on the water. In the end, we paddled 57km in variable conditions, starting from Locks 11/12 and paddling all the way down to Trenton. Deanna’s parents were nice enough to drive us out to the start in the early morning, and even provided late-day moral support, and even ice cream at the take out!

This was a really fun adventure, and one I’ve no doubt Deanna will remember for some time. Making memories like that with the love of your life is truly special, and I’m glad we got some good pictures from the adventure! The only problem with doing something like that is that you’re never sure when or what the next adventure might be. We’ve been toying with cycling across Canada, hiking the Himalayas, etc. etc., time and money are the only real obstacles. All I know is that someday, they will all be crossed off the life adventure bucket list!

Wedding Prep Going Well

As you’ve no doubt read a couple times in this post, wedding planning is going pretty well. Things are already mostly sorted out for the big day, and we’re getting increasingly excited. One of the primary preoccupations we’ve got is ensuring all our guests are well entertained and sufficiently hydrated. To those ends, we recently bottled the two batches of wine that we had specially made for the big day. In fact, we were bottling the very morning we were flying out to Denver for my big race in Leadville! We had the opportunity to sample both the red and the white, and I can assure you that both are quite tasty, and eminently drinkable 🙂 I’ll be surprised if we come back home with too many bottles after the wedding. Now that I have your attention, if any of you are reading this and haven’t yet RSVP’d, please take a moment to do so now 😉

Last but not least, another fun thing we did recently was head out on the kayaks again to witness the spectacle that if Flugtag Ottawa, put on by Red Bull. There are plenty of pictures of that as well, but we haven’t gotten around to posting them yet. Suffice to say, it was a gorgeous day on the water, and quite entertaining to watch all the flying machines try to get airborne, but ultimately end up waterlogged and craned out of the river!

That’s it for my brief update. I’m really hoping that I’ll get around to writing up the experience that was Leadville in the near future, but I have to make sure I do the event justice. It was amazing! Stay tuned friends…

Fighting to the Finish for Fifth

RP_Paddling the Boat

I truly am a big fan of alliteration. That, and palindromes. Although, I’ve always wondered why exactly the word palindrome itself isn’t a palindrome. But I digress. The point of this post is obviously to tell you all about my latest race, not of my grammatical proclivities :-). This time I’m writing about the May Raid Pulse race, an 8hr adventure race. Note I’m calling this an 8hr race, and not a 5-8hr race. Thierry, the race director, does an impressive job at ensuring most racers are out there for the full duration, so it does, in fact, end up being a solid 8 hour physical effort. For this race, I teamed up with the formidable James Galipeau, a seasoned multi-day international adventure racer, so you know we were planning to go for the win! I was also covering the event for Get Out There Magazine, which meant I’d have cameras in tow. With that in mind, there are of course a nice little folder of pictures to check out in flickr, as well as the full video review at the end of this post. Now read on for the exciting tale!

Pictures from the Event

One of the best parts about racing with a team is that you can split the tasks in a race. Most notable in this sort of race is that one person needs to be responsible for navigation, and the other can take care of things like checking for land features, punching the passport at the checkpoints, and in my case, doing some filming and narration as we go along. With that in mind, we decided that James would handle the navs for the race. He wanted the practice, and I was happy to oblige, as then I could blame him if we lost (or got lost). Ha ha. Kidding.

To avoid a painfully early morning drive out to the race venue, we both opted to camp at race HQ, and partake in the morning breakfast buffet on offer. Seemed a good way to spend $16. It also allowed us to get registered the night before and ensure all our team gear was sorted and ready to go. What we hadn’t counted on was how cold it got that night! Not below zero, but close. I was in my hammock, with no insulation underneath, so as the night wore on, I gradually moved from bag unzipped and in my underwear, to bag zipped, to bringing extra clothes into the bag with me, to putting on said clothes, to finally even wearing my jacket! Judging by the tossing and turning sounds from James little tent, I’d say he underwent a similar metamorphosis.

With the rough night, I think I only managed 2-3 hours of fitful sleep, not ideal conditions for getting ready to race for 8 hours, but no time to dwell on that. We fueled up with a good breakfast, dropped off our bikes and gear at the transition zones, and headed to race briefing, where we got our race maps and instructions, and got busy planning our route. Lucky for us, the cold of the night disappeared quickly enough, and we had a sunny warm day for the race itself. No complaints on that front! Racers assembled at the start for final instructions before taking off on foot at 10am for the first section.

Race Summary / Stats

Race Stats

The initial section was all trekking / orienteering, and consisted of a pretty good mix of terrain to deal with. The very first checkpoint was located high up at the summit of a nearby hill. We overshot slightly on the trails before heading off-trail to find it. However, we were pleased to learn we were in 3rd place when we finally grabbed it. From that point, it should have been a relatively straightforward WNW bearing to get CP2. Unfortunately for us, a slight navigational error had us heading on a more WSW trajectory. When you do that and traverse 1km of bush, it can add up to a pretty chunky time loss. In our case, hard to judge, but probably 30 minutes or so. This is NOT good in an 8hr race. We found ourselves smack-dab in the back of the mid-pack racers. Ugh. Time to put the game face on and push hard.

From that point, there were 2 more CPs to grab before the first transition. One of them involved a bit of a water crossing. Apparently, the previous evenings’ temperature left the air, but not the water. It was COLD. Especially when I stumbled on a submerged log and went almost completely under. Let’s just say there was shrinkage, and a desire to get out fast. Trouble is, this was semi-swampy, meaning very unsure footing. Regardless, we nabbed the CP and fought our way back onto solid ground. We made relatively quick work of CP4. We chose another ‘interesting’, if not inefficient routing to get from there to the transition, and as a result, still found ourselves in a position more than 30 minutes behind the 1st place team.

With little time to dwell on our current position, I put one of our bike trail maps on my bike map board, we grabbed some quick energy food, and took off in hot pursuit of the phantoms ahead of us (as they were out of sight). Lucky for us, it was nice gravel roads under the tires, and we hammered hard on the opening sections to make it to the start of the fun mountain bike section that was located on the trails at Velo MSM. We managed to make up a few positions on this section, with high hopes to nail the rest of the race course. On arrival at the marshal point at the start of the bike leg, we were shown the location of the ‘advanced’ checkpoints on the trails. There were 2 to find, both pretty easy to grab on the trails.

After copying the location onto our maps, we made our way onto the trails. What a treat! These are some amazing new trails that criss-cross the Mont St. Marie ski area. Well worth the drive up if you’re looking for a new mtb challenge close to Ottawa / Gatineau. Things in there went very smoothly EXCEPT for trying to find the stupid entrance to one of the trail sections we needed to get to. Lack of signs and confusing map illustrations complicated matters, and we lost a bit of time, although from what we gathered, we WERE NOT alone (and had a mini-train of riders with us at one point. Once we found the right trails, things were pretty straightforward. We made one big loop, ducking into the more technical trails to grab the advanced checkpoints.

All CPs gathered in the Velo MSM trails, it was time to head back out onto the gravel roads and make our way to the next ATV trail section on the bikes, and ultimately get to the next transition. This particular part of the bike course got rather interesting. By that, I mean kinda tricky. Lots of tough riding with downed trees, and debris on the trails. There were quite a few overgrown sections and bike walking sections. For us, we held hope that it would improve our standing, as we kept pushing hard. At one CP, we were told we were sitting 11th overall. We passed one other team on this section, meaning we were at least sitting in 10th. Anecdotally, we’ve heard that other teams had pretty rough times out there, with one friend going through all their spare tubes and patches and being forced to basically walk out of the woods. VERY rough go for them.

For our part, things weren’t great, but we kept moving forward. As you may recall, it had been 4 short days ago that I had a bad roll on my ankle, warranting x-rays. Although it hadn’t been broken, it was plenty tender, so I was wearing ankle braces. Due to the terrain, I found myself hitting the soft spots numerous times on rocks, trees, and even the bike frame. I had to really retreat to my pain cave to prevent from giving in to the misery of the moment. Luckily, good team-mates know when to talk it out and when to leave you be. James wisely let me suffer in silence, letting me dictate the pace and push as hard as I could.

To close out the bike section, we dropped our bikes off at one clearing, then had to trek about 1km along the waters edge to get to the paddling transition. Along the shore, we also had to grab a couple more checkpoints, but they were pretty obvious and easy to grab. No chance of errors there. Arriving at the paddle transition, luck was with us. There was one ‘fast, lightweight’ canoe left in the fleet, so we grabbed that quick. We also pulled another quick(ish) transition and had more Boost and grabbed more food from our stash. As well, we once again had to consult a supplementary map and sketch out 4 advanced checkpoints along the paddle section that we had to grab if we hoped to stay in the front pack of finishers. I took over navigation duties for this leg, as I was in the bow of the boat, which allowed James to handle steering duties while I’d check our course.

Timing was going to be tight, but we headed out on perfect waters and with full intentions of grabbing all the checkpoints. They had to be picked up more or less in order so the route was pretty much pre-determined. That is, up until the advanced CPs, which we could complete in any order. Here, there were a few options how to grab them, each involving different amounts of trekking or paddling, as they were located inland from different features. I made decisions on the fly as to how we’d attack them, and for the most part, things went pretty smoothly. Of course, things always look easier on a map than on foot, and I’m pretty sure one of the CPs was located a little further inland than intended. We still got it easily, it just meant more bushwhacking.

Time was of the essence, and we could now see that finishing in under 8 hours would be a pretty tough challenge. We calculated our average boat speed, and looked at the distance of the last inland checkpoint. We had to make the tough call of how hard to push before making the decision to turn back to get to the boat in order to make the time. In essence, each CP was worth 25 points. Those with all regular CPs AND advanced CPs are ranked ahead of others. HOWEVER, for each minute past 8hrs, you were deducted 1 point. We had to time it that IF we were late, we needed all CPs, and be there before 8hrs. 24mins. Happily, luck was on our side. The adrenaline of the final push helped us grab the final CP in very good time, and piling back into the canoe, we figured we had exactly enough time to make it by 8hrs.

Paddling our butts off for the last several kms, hitting the shore, and pulling the boat out, and we were still pushing hard. We had to run up a steep set of stairs and accross a grassy field to get to the official finish. As we crested the top of the stairs, we saw we had 3 minutes to spare! So, we ended up clearing the entire course, including the advanced CPs in under 8 hours. Whew! Sadly, we were a full 43 minutes behind 1st place! That dropped to 30 minutes behind 2nd and 3rd though, so overall, not THAT bad of a result 🙂

There may have been no prizing, honour, or glory in our final ranking, which was 5th in our category and 9th overall, but we still had a bang-up race. As is typical in AR, a couple little mistakes ended up costing us the podium. However, we still finished strongly, had a great race, and overcame physical and mental challenges to get there! I’ll take the rush of the event over the victory in most cases, since the podium is so elusive to us mortals anyway! Luckily, my next story MAY have a happier ending, but you’ll have to wait to read about that one.

As usual, the post-race feast and atmosphere was great, and we enjoyed catching up with all the other teams to hear about their days. Per usual, our story was neither unique nor that impressive compared to what some teams had to go through for their ‘victories’. That is probably the best part of this whole community. We can all relate to the successes and the failures of the sport and our own abilities. It is a humbling pursuit to take on these challenges. But as always, Thierry and the whole Raid Pulse delivered a great experience in spades. If you haven’t done so yet, I invite you to watch the race video below to see some of the highlights. Until next time, play hard, and I hope to see you all out there!

Video Race Review

Radical Racing at the RockstAR Race

RockstAR Pose CP

Greetings friends, and welcome to another exciting race report from the wilds of the Muskoka region! Yup, that’s right, once again, I made my way into the beautiful lands west of Ottawa and north of Toronto. This time, I was taking part in the RockstAR Adventure Race, an 8-hour rogaine-style adventure race (more on this later), with my friend and team-mate of years gone by, Carl. And for a change, I actually wasn’t covering this event for the magazine. I was bona-fide just there for some fun and a good hard race with no thought being given to capturing good footage to distil the entire event into a little video. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a camera with me, and to those ends, why not check out some of the pictures I took before reading the rest of the post? It was another fun-filled weekend, with great weather, and a pretty cool race experience. Find out all about it after the jump!

Race Pictures

My decision to try this race out came pretty early in the season. I actually had it on my list of events that I wanted to cover for Get Out There, but then that option didn’t materialize. However, I had already asked Carl if he was interested in racing, and he said yes. As such, we pulled the trigger, plunked down our cash, and made the plans to race. The fact that I wouldn’t be covering the race for the magazine made it a little less onerous on me as well. I could just focus on the race and having a good time rather than fretting about getting good footage, then spending 5-6 hours putting it together for a 3 minute video 🙂

Not only has the RockstAR race been running for the past 5 years now, but it was also voted by readers as the Reader’s Choice Winner in 2011 for Adventure Races. This of course was part of the allure to trying it out. Also, this whole ‘rogaine-style’ approach intrigued me. We were given a little advance notice as to how this would play out. Basically, the race would consist of 2 distinct legs. The first leg was a 25km marked mountain bike section through ATV trails, gravel roads, and a bit of pavement to get back to the Start / Finish area. There would be no CPs along this section, just a race to get back to the ‘hub’. Leg 2 would consist of 30 checkpoints to be tackled in any order. They had different point values, and the intention was to get as many as you could before the time cutoff via trekking and paddling. The race was to start promptly at 11am (remote start), and would end promptly at 7pm. Each minute you arrived at the finish past that, and you’d lose 10 points.

The point ranges for these CPs was 20 all the way to 120, which was meant to reflect the difficulty of getting a particular checkpoint. Historically, no one had ever ‘cleared’ the course. What does that mean? Well, racers had to spend some time planning out their plan of attack to get as many CPs as they could, while deciding which ones to possibly drop from the list in order to finish in time. The other thing that meant is that you had to be able to change the plan on the fly as you went, in order to maximize points. Ultimately, this also resulted in everyone pretty much being out there for the full 8 hours. This differs from other adventure races billed as an 8 hour race, as top teams can finish in 5-6 hours. Nope, we’d be out there the whole time, and needed enough food / drink to sustain the pace all day. So how did we fare? Read on!

The Race Stats

Trek and Paddle Map

Sorry, no Garmin track this time, as no GPS trackers even permitted, but here are some stats:

  • Time on Course: 7:53:47
  • CPs Cleared: 25 / 30
  • Points Obtained: 1610 / 1980
  • Rank: 10th (of 32) Male team of 2, 11th Overall (of 76)

As you can see from the above stats, we had a good race. In fact, I’d even say a darned good race. Sure, we would have liked to grab a few more CPs, but that was not in the cards. As it turns out, only one team, the overall winner, managed to get all the CPs. We set out an ambitious plan, and did well, but also made the right decisions on when to skip CPs. With just a little more speed, we probably could have picked off one more, and with a little luck, would have gotten the points for one of the CPs that we visited (I’ll explain shortly).

First thing in the morning, we got an early start by having breakfast in the main dining hall with other races. Following that, we registered and got the race maps, giving us nearly 2 hours to decide on a course of action. The picture above shows what our overall plan was for grabbing CPs. We also had to submit a copy of this to the race organizers, just in case we went missing and they had to know where to look for us. Safety first! We managed to plan out a course to get all the CPs, just in case we had time, but also discussed our ‘skip strategy’ depending how we felt. It boiled down to 4 ‘sections’ in our minds. Section 1, the bike. Section 2, the ‘east’ and ‘north’ CPs. Section 3, the ‘south’ section, and Section 4, the ‘hub’ section. We could tweak a few things if needed to ensure a 7pm finish.

The bike section was really fun, and had a great flow. It was nice to just focus on the biking, rather than have to find CPs along the way. The course was easy to follow, and basically made it a great way to spread the field out. We covered the 25km in 1:09:19. Looking casually at the results, it looks like that made us around 9th to complete that section, which was a strong time. To make this, we pushed hard, and worked with another team to draft some sections. Carl faded a bit towards the end, but we pushed on. The top team finished barely 10 minutes ahead of us for this leg. I was quite happy with this result. Admittedly, Carl and I haven’t raced in almost 2 years together, and he hasn’t been doing all that much serious training or racing, so this was totally understandable!

Finishing that quick gave us nearly 7 hours for the rogaine section. With that in mind, we immediately decided to focus on clearing the full east and north sections, as they involved the most distance, but also had a lot of high-value CPs in the offing. We made an on-the-fly decision on how to tackle a few of the early CPs by foot rather than head out on boats, and were happy with that decision. Then, it was in the canoe to reach some of the shoreline CPs before parking our craft and going for the long march in the ‘north’ section to clear it.

We used a combination of quick walking and light jogging to try and keep momentum up. Luckily, most of the CPs were relatively easy to navigate to. I carried the lead, and did the navigation as well, using our agreed-upon plan and route. We get close to each CP, and I’d run ahead to punch the CP card and insert our timing chip. I’d then yell back at Carl to turn around (if we were on a spur), or continue on the trails. Most CPs were on very easy landmarks such as trails or streams, dams, etc. I was really happy they were that easy. A few involved a bit of bushwhacking or stumbling over a lot of deadfall, but that’s to be expected.

Whenever our pace would dip a bit, and the trail allowed it, we’d pull out a tow system so I could help take a bit of the load off Carl and keep moving forward together. With all my trail running, this was clearly my forte, so we had to work smart to keep a consistent overall pace during the long hot slogs on gravel roads, ATV trails etc. It worked very well, and we kept reminding each other to eat and drink, as well as encourage each other the whole time. In other words, we worked very well as a team, which gave us more strength together than if we’d just gone individually.

One by one we picked off all the north CPs, and eventually were back at the boats. Timing was good, as we’d both run out of water, but both of us had some stashed in the canoe. We’d also made a decision during the north trek to cut out the 2 highest value (120pts each) CPs in the south, as it was clear we would NOT have the time. We also pieced together a slightly revised route that saw us do a bit more paddling to pick up some of the south CPs clumped together near the water, rather than attack them by foot, which had been our plan if we’d gone for the 120s. This would give us the time to clear most of the other south CPs, as well as clear the hub CPs. It was a solid plan, and gave us renewed energy to tackle them.

Included in that clump was the first ‘fun’ CP, which was an inner tube hand paddle out to an island to reach a CP, the kick back. Only one of us had to do it, and I was the lucky guy. At least it gave me a chance to cool off in the water and gave Carl a chance to take a little rest in the shade. By this time, we were closing in on 5:30, and knew we had to do a mandatory check-in at the hub by 6pm or risk disqualification. We took a gamble after the inner tube CP and paddled to grab the 2 other nearby water checkpoints. That left us with a mad paddle back to the hub to make the cutoff. In the end, we punched in at CP “B” at 5:54pm, leaving 6 minutes to spare. Whew! Close call.

It was now on to the final part of the course for us. We decided to grab a couple more of the ‘fun’ CPs near the hub before heading south for the final hour. First up was an underwater CP which Carl took. Basically, swim out, dive down, retrieve a CD, and bring it to a volunteer. He polished that one off double quick, and we were off next door for the ‘rock star pose’ CP where you just need to pose for a picture to get the CP. WIth that done, we set off at a trot for several kms down the road to reach the final ‘far’ CP we hoped to grab. After that, a loop back on a trail to nab 2 other CPs on the way back to the hub. Here we had to skip a 60 pointer that was a couple hundred meters off the trail, as we knew that bushwhacking to get it could very likely cost us more than a few minutes at the finish line. With that in mind, we were ready to head home and grab one final CP before punching in at the finish.

Sadly, that final CP was more of an insult than anything to us. This was the infamous ‘slingshot’ CP. We each had 3 loonies as part of our mandatory gear, and at this CP, we had to shoot these at targets 25m away. If you hit it, you got to punch in for 40 points. If you miss, no points. Well, we gave our best with 6 shots, and missed all of them (we weren’t alone in missing). Accordingly, we were denied our 40 points. Kinda sucked to actually make a CP but not get credit 🙁 I attempted bribing the volunteer to no avail! Oh well, we finished the final dash to the finish and punched in with [again] 6 minutes to spare. That’s exactly how it should be in a rogaine. As close to the wire with as many points as possible. Hugs all around, job well done, and big smiles on our faces!

The post race was already underway, with food being served in the dining hall, and the bar open for business at $5 a drink. We decided to first shower, pick up our bikes and gear, then turn our minds to celebrating with fellow racers. The rest of the evening was spent enjoying food, beers, and the company of great racers swapping stories about their day, and of other past race exploits. This is always the highlight of a long day racing, sharing ‘war stories’. To entertain us through the night, there was also a fellow playing tunes on a guitar. We were amongst the last people to turn in for the night, and had a great time.

So ends the RockstAR race for 2012. This was truly a unique event (although with many familiar elements) that I’d recommend to others to try. Not only was there the 8-hour event, there was also a 4-hour option on offer for beginners and those looking for a shorter length. The whole day was run smoothly and had no hiccups. Everything was where it should have been, and we all got exactly what we expected. Hats off to the entire race organization for this one! Next up: the Muskoka Grind off-road triathlon in Huntsville. Yup, that’s right, heading right back to the same area for another weekend of racing! Here’s hoping for another strong showing in solidarity with all the Canadian athletes participating in the Olympics at the same time 🙂