Tag Archives: The Ark

Doubling Down in the Dead of Winter

Good day my friends! As most of you are well aware, I like to train. I also like to race. Sometimes, I may bite off a little more than I can chew. This post will be an ode to one of those instances. As my title alludes to, I made the great decision to race in two races in one day! Unprecedented? No, as I did the same thing last year with no ill effects. However, this time, things didn’t quite go as planned. Regardless, please read on to learn about the fun I had at the Frost and Fire Winter Triathlon in the morning, and the Mad Trapper Night Race in the evening, and find out where the wheels fell off!

I suppose I might as well do the cowardly thing right off the bat and make my excuses. You see, I’d been battling a flu / cold for over two weeks on the day in question. Even as I write this, over three weeks have passed (and 3 races!), and I’m still coughing a fair bit. I know I should have listened to my body, but the Snowman Award was up for grabs, and it’s always so much fun that I just couldn’t skip out on either of the two races.

Frost and Fire Winter Triathlon

First up in the morning was the Frost and Fire Tri. I’d done this race last year for its inaugural outing, and decided to give it a whirl once again. Last year, the race was plagued with horribly cold weather, and was a tough grind, and I had hoped this year things might turn out a  bit better. Unfortunately, in spite of the best efforts of the organizers, mother nature threw them another curve ball. How so? Well, let’s just say she huffed and puffed and blew the house down!

Last year, there was only a small tent for participants to seek shelter from the elements in the farmers field. So this year, they tripled the size of the tent. Unfortunately, 2/3rds of it blew away the night before! Not only that, but all the groomed tracks were completely covered in blown-in snow before the event got underway. So once again, we arrived to a cold, wind-swept race site, trying our best to stay warm, and figure out where the snowshoe and ski tracks were!

Frost and Fire Results

As you can see above, I managed a time of 1:40 for the entire race. However, that wasn’t an easy task at all. I seeded myself at the front of the race, hoping to do well. The snowshoe leg would probably be my best bet of doing well, but was also the shortest leg, at a mere 2.7km. I went out hard, and was rewarded by spending most of it in 4th, and for a few brief shining steps, finding myself in 2nd place! It was great. Whereas the show was quite soft and hard to find footing in the main track, I found spots beside the track that were quite crusted over, giving me a chance to ‘float’ past my competitor friends 🙂 Towards the end of the snowshoe I faded a little bit and slipped into a pace line of 4 other racers, coming into the first transition in about 7th place (but importantly, with all the leaders).

I tried my best to pull off a fast transition, slipping on my ski boots and running out. I fought a bit with gloves and poles before finally gliding off, ready for 2 laps of 4.3km each, for a total of 8.6km of skiing. I’ve been taking skate ski lessons, and had hoped to focus on strong technique. However, nothing could prepare me for this monstrosity. While the terrain was relatively flat, it was all buried in 20cm of fresh snow for a lot of it. Imagine trying to skate ski in sand. Yeah. Not fun. I didn’t know what to do. Not only that, but you couldn’t even pole well, as the tip would sink 2 feet down, on account of a non-packed trail! It was horrible. With a sinking heart, I contemplated throwing in the towel. However, realizing everyone else would be suffering, and that I wasn’t actually being passed, I figured I’d grin and bear it.

When I finally cruised back into transition, my spirit was crushed. Luckily, it was just a nice 5k road run out and back (albeit with some climbs), to finish the race. I re-grouped, and pushed hard to the finish line, trying to claw back any time I could. My end result was a respectable 9th overall, with a 5th in my category. The race was wrapped with awards at a local restaurant (for an extra charge surprisingly). This was a good spot to trade war stories with my fellow racers. No one got our unscathed. I was also there to cheer on the winners, who are people I train with. Very cool to be a part of ‘the team’.

Anywho, to close off on this race, you might as well watch my race review, if you haven’t seen it before. Sadly, I have no pictures from this one. Too focused on racing, staying warm, and getting the filming done!

Mad Trapper Night Race

The second race of the day is another perennial favourite of mine, the Mad Trapper Night snowshoe race. It’s really cool to watch a field full of headlights bobbing around as they race their way through the woods in the dark. As with all Mad Trappers, the focus is on fun anyway, so the only real competition is manufactured by those of us testing each other out. And of course, that means me! I was still stinging from the last race where I got pipped at the line, and wanted to see if I could kick some butt this time. My main adversary had also raced in the morning, so we were in the same boat. I figured that with a few hours of recovery at home, I should be good to go, right? Maybe not. Let’s see how that worked out…

In another funny twist, yet again this year, the night race was plagued by somewhat poor weather (read: there was a snowstorm!) on the lead up. Although it had been clear earlier in the day, by the evening, it was a full-on snowy stormy night. The past three years have basically had the same weather! The funny thing is, the crowds just get bigger in bad weather. But I digress. Due to the weather Deanna and I were running pretty late, and showed up pretty much right at the start time. Luckily, the race was delayed about 10 minutes on account of lots of other racers arriving late. Some had started wondering if I’d show, but of course, I wouldn’t miss the chance!

Headlamps on, snowshoes strapped to my feet, it was time to do the dance. I lined up at the front, aware of my competitors and where I should seed myself. The field was pretty much the same as the last race, so I settled in about 6th to 8th slot on the opening lap. James and I let the front runners take off, and we found ourselves in a little trio of racers. I felt OK, but not great. James also seemed a little tired, and at one point even pulled over to let me pass. For a brief moment, I thought that I would be able to just stay ahead and power my way to the finish ahead of him (I was probably in about 5th place now).


For most of the first lap, things just went along nicely like that, with me staying ahead of James and pushing along. However, with the last kilometer or so of the first lap, I started waning a bit, and let James pass me on the last big climb. I thought I’d just let things go at that, and stay behind him. However, he stopped for a drink at the Start/Finish, and I shot past again. As a result, I felt it was back in time for me to stay ahead, and pressed on bravely.

Unfortunately, the wheels fell off. Big time! See that graph above in blue? Notice how it shot up, stayed steady for a while, then just gradually drops off to nothing? Yup. That is my heartrate, and it shows quite dramatically where I fell apart, and got slower and slower, eventually falling off to a walk in the last 2km.

I felt horrible. I was completely parched, starving, and had no energy. I literally wanted to curl up into a ball and sleep on the side of the trail. I was cursing my body, and annoyed at the situation, but unable to do anything. Every now and again I’d get the bright idea to try and run again (usually on an uphill), only to crash back down. Eventually, if felt like everybody caught and passed me. I believe 7 people did so in the last km!

I was not a happy camper. A few asked if I was okay, and I just told them to race their race, and I’d be fine. The last person to pass me, Paul Shea, a fireman by trade, went the extra step. He offered to walk with me, to which I told him to race on. Once he finished, he got a gel from someone and BACKTRACKED to find me and give it to me to help me finish. I couldn’t argue and just ate the offering. This was probably my worst-feeling finish in a race since the last Ironman that I did where I don’t even remember certain parts of the run and had to dive in water to cool my core temperature down.

I know it was bad because at the finish, people didn’t even make fun of me, as they could tell I was a broken man. Even though there was beer at the finish, I didn’t pour a single pint for myself. I didn’t deserve it. However, I DID deserve the 3 brownies that I ate along with the delicious chili on offer. There was a nice festive atmosphere, but I was too pooped to really enjoy it.

So there you have it, a fun couple of races, but a disappointing way to cap off the day for me. In retrospect, I think I didn’t hydrate or re-fuel properly between races. I had gone home, and worked on some other stuff rather than focusing on me. As a result, I paid the price. Lesson learned, and time to move on, right? And move on was the key, as in 1 week, I’d be off for the next race, a winter triathlon in St. Donat, Quebec, but that’s for another post! Till then, stay hydrated, and enjoy the snow!


Solid 5th Place at Season Opening Mad Trapper

Howdy race fans! Back again for another dramatic race re-cap from the wilds surrounding my humble abode. This time, the start was at the venerable Ark, and the event was [supposed to be] the season opening Mad Trapper Snowshoe race. Each year, Mike puts on a total of 4 snowshoe races on his property, including a super-fun night race. Although we’d gotten a good dump of snow over the course of the previous 2 weeks, we also unfortunately had a day and a half of warmer temps that brought rain. So, while there WAS snow, the coverage was poor and there were lots of rocks and exposed open fields. As a result, a Mad Trapper Trail Race was held instead. Not the first time this has happened in December! Check out some pics I snapped an put on Flickr, then read the rest of my recap.

Pictures from the Race

If you’ve spent any time whatsoever on this blog, you’ll likely have read quite a few posts about Mad Trapper races out at the Ark. Mike is celebrating 10 years of hosting races up there, and I’ve been a part of almost all of them. There are only a handful of us that can lay claim to that distinction, and it’s still fun to see them out there and share the trails in friendly competition. Snowshoe races are the classic out there, but as you may know, Mike has branched out over the years, hosting trail running races, orienteering races, obstacle races, and even a beer mile! Can’t wait for whatever is next, but first, let’s talk turkey about this race.

The traditional December race is the ‘flatter’ course, and for this one, Mike would the clock back to one of his classic course designs from years gone by where we traipse over his neighbour’s property, in the open fields. This truly is one of his flatter runs, which should lead to some pretty speedy results by the front runners, which I hoped to count myself among. Thanks to the Anvil race a couple weeks before, I had what I considered would be the best footwear for me, my new Mudclaws. Yaktrax or similar shoe attachments might have been ok as well, but they tend to get in the way, and I don’t own any spiked shoes. With the conditions being what they were, the race consisted of about 40 hearty souls in total. Just the right number to make it a fun challenge.

I showed up a touch earlier than usual, and did a nice little warmup on the trails and with a bit of bushwhacking for fun. This was mainly to determine the state of the course. Luckily, it was a little warmer than the Anvil had been, so the footing was a little safer, as the ground wasn’t completely frozen solid (better purchase in grass and leaves). I got back to the start with a few minutes to spare, lined up with my like-minded friends, traded friendly taunts, and got ready to go. Mike warned us to take it easy on the first lap, as by his estimation, this would be the most dangerous Mad Trapper he’s hosted! That seemed to translate to a classic ‘gentleman’s’ start, with no one seeming willing to push hard off the start.

My Race Log

Race Results for Me

Instead, at the front of the pack, we just all sort of gradually picked up tempo as we got comfortable with the trail. It was the usual suspects out front. I was sitting 7th or so, but gradually picked my way up the field until I was sitting in 3rd overall, behind Nathan Underwood and Dave McMahon (both ski phenoms). This didn’t seem quite right, as I knew there were faster people behind me. Well, once we hit the flat, open fields, that’s where I lost a couple spots, to find myself sitting in 5th. I was determined to hold onto that spot, and pushed hard to stay in contact with the front 4. The plan was working well, and for a bit, I thought I might actually regain 4th place. However, such would not ultimately be the case. I crossed the end of the first lap in a time of about 28 minutes. Pretty good for the opening 5k. Knowing that someone was on my tail, I opened it up a little more to press on hard for the 2nd lap.

My second lap consisted of my wondering whether or not I could maintain my pace, with my average heart rate sitting at over 175bpm, and my will being tested. However, I knew that physically I could hold on, so it was just a mental game. I used my standard practice of pretending that someone was right on my heels at all times and that if I let up, I’d get passed and lose my top 5 slot. It worked quite well, and although I never quite caught 4th place again, I sailed through the course for a dead-even 2nd lap sitting at about 28 minutes again. My total time was 56m30s, good enough for 5th overall, and a full 6 minutes ahead of my next closest competitor. My litmus test had me at 2.5 minutes behind Dave McMahon (3rd place) and about 6.5 minutes behind the winner. In other words, I was clearly in the lead pack, with a good gap to the rest of the field. Sweet! Only the 5 of us beat the course in under 1 hour. Here’s hoping that I can keep this sort of fitness for the actual snowshoe races as well.

As usual, the post race socializing was as much fun as the race. There were heaping helpings of both meat and veggie lasagna, homemade brownies, chips, cookies, fruit, and of course fresh Broadhead Beer on tap (kegerator this time!). Everyone milled around until Mike decided to do his version of an awards ceremony. This of course is random prize-giving, random good-natured insulting, and general rambling to the amusement of all present. All in all, a good season opener in spite of not getting to try out my new Dion Snowshoes in a race setting. However, judging by the weather we’ve had so far in December, I think I’ll be in good shape for snow activities for the rest of the winter. Now with that, I have to go shovel, slap some green grip wax on my classic skis, and head to the Parc for some training. See you all out there!

Happily Ever After…


Hello one and all. Some of you may realize that this post has been a couple years in the making. For those of you not aware, I took that ‘leap of faith’, proposed to Deanna in May of 2012, and have now carried through with the grand plan. I am now officially hitched. I’ve even got a fancy cobalt ring to prove it. The official date was October 5th, 2013, but things have been pretty busy since then, what with a fabulous honeymoon and a ramped-up work schedule which has had me traveling to Toronto a fair bit. I also really wasn’t sure how to summarize such an amazing, life-changing day in my normal fashion. Suffice to say, there were cameras rolling for the event, and plenty of pictures taken, but they can’t possibly capture all that I felt that day. The emotion was on a level I dare say I have rarely ever experienced before, but all in a good way! Read on for a bit more insight into ‘the greatest day of my life’! While the final, edited pictures are not completed yet, we have nonetheless collected quite a few from friends and family, which are now on flickr.

I think I need to get one thing out of the way up front. Yes. I cried. It was impossible not to. It was only once and it was during the ceremony, but I know some of you picked up on it. As soon as my beautiful bride stepped out of the Ark and began descending the stairs, I welled up. It was the culmination of an amazing courtship and friendship started many years back, and I was just overcome with the moment. Yup, I can be a softie, and I DO have feelings after all, for those who were in doubt. But of course, I have gotten ahead of myself, haven’t I? Let’s reverse this tale just a little bit and review how we got here, and how the day shaped up.

I will avoid the long-winded story, but for the record, Deanna and I met in 2006. It was at an adventure race. I was racing, she was volunteering. I had a camera with me (what else is new) on the race, and snapped her picture at a checkpoint, later labeling it “A Friendly Volunteer”. We talked later that night at the post-race party, and got along well. From that time, I saw her at a few more races, and we always chatted a bit and joked around with each other (some may even say ‘innocent flirting’). Regardless, both of us had different lives, in different cities, and didn’t really make any efforts to get to know each other on any deeper level then racer / race staff friendships.

Fast forward to May 2010. We happened to both be in a different phase of our lives. Both single. Some might call it fate. Either way, the flirting was a little deeper after that particular race, and we lingered with each other just a little later into the evening at the post-race party, even taking a stroll by the waterfront of the Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville. We went separate ways the next morning, but my curiosity was piqued. So, on the long drive home, while stopped in Dixie Lee Chicken in Barry’s Bay, I sent out a text that would change my life course. I invited Deanna to come visit me in Ottawa, from Toronto. Failing to come up with a decent reason why she shouldn’t, she agreed later in the week. The rest, as they say, is history.

In the following months, what started as a pretty innocent and adventuresome friendship / romance, grew in ways neither of us had foreseen. The weekdays spent apart felt agonizing to both of us, and I was soon setting up week-long trips to Toronto where I’d work in a local office. Of course, even with that, Deanna decided to make the big move, and in December 2010, we packed her up, and she started a new life in Ottawa! It was heady and exciting times to see where this would go.

The next year and a half were filled with endless fun and adventures, lots of talking and learning about each other, and a realization that we were both completely happy and couldn’t imagine not being together. So what was I to do? It was obvious to me. Propose to Deanna exactly 2 years after we got together, at the same race, in the same location, with her as a volunteer, and me as a racer. I didn’t win the race that day, but I won the greatest prize I could hope for. A lifetime of happiness, support, and understanding. And I do have to stress understanding. I’m so lucky to have found someone who doesn’t only understand me, but can relate and deal with it!! 🙂

Once the proposal was out of the way, the planning started pretty much right away. We knew immediately where we’d want to get married. At the ARK. This is a place where we’ve done snowshoe races, trail running, and is off the grid and in the middle of the woods. We could think of no better place to commit our lives to each other. Met outdoors, got to know each other outdoors, and now, get wed outdoors. It was perfect. Not to mention Mike, our officiant, was a good friend, and had known us for our ‘formative years’.

Being the slightly controlling / engineering / perfectionist -minded fellow, I had a pretty big hand in the process of planning our wedding. We wanted to make sure that all the little things were planned out, but even though we started a year in advance, I was amazed how many last minute things crept up on us. Through the whole process though, we reminded ourselves that at the end of the day, this was for US, and that if we were happy, our guests would be happy. However, to ensure that, we knew early on it would be open bar all day and night 🙂 To make that extra special, Deanna and I made two special batches of wine ourselves, and sub-contracted the Beer Baron (aka Best Brewmaster, aka Rob) to craft two special ales for the wedding.

The choice to go with an Oktoberfest theme was also pretty spur of the moment once we settled on a caterer. We looked at menu options, saw the ‘European Feast’ menu, looked at the calendar, and realized it would be perfect. Little did we know how amazing my Swiss cousins would be at playing the part, with some of them wearing traditional oktoberfest attire for the occasion. It was just so fun! We think most guests also agreed, with the first 2 kegs of beer pretty much gone before we even started the meal!! Good thing we had planned on 4 kegs AND lots of spirits as well. Happily, the bar didn’t run dry at all.

Of course, in my mind, music is also pretty critical, and early on, we also decided we should seek out live music. I was torn between live band all night or not, and ended up deciding to go with cocktail jazz for a couple hours, then personal music curation later in the evening (aka I decided to DJ our wedding myself, lol). We found an absolutely stunning 4 piece jazz band to entertain between the ceremony and reception, and they did a great job setting the mood while guests mingled, and we got our wedding photos taken.

This is probably a great time to also mention that we were VERY lucky with the weather. In spite of calls for rain on the day, instead, we were greeted by a perfect sunny day, with only chillier temperatures in the night once the bonfire was already raging in the back part of the property. This allowed everyone to enjoy the fall colours in the setting just as we’d imagined it. I think the smile was planted on my face the entire day, from the morning wake-up to the very very late bedtime.

The actual celebrating also started the day before, where we hosted a family and wedding party get-together at one of our favourite microbreweries, Brasseurs du Temps. It was a very laid-back evening, just giving a chance for everyone to mingle and get to know each other. With family and friends flying in from all over the world, it was a great chance to catch up without the big wedding day anxiety.

Wow, I have so many thoughts tumbling around as I type this. Big shout out also has to go to all the friends we had helping with the event. From the weeks leading up to the event, and through to the actual clean-up at the end of the wedding night, there were always people offering to help and give us tips and things to think of. In fact, now that I look back, I lied up above. I said I only cried once on my wedding day. In fact, I cried twice. The second came with my best man’s speech (Matt). He barely started speaking before he got choked up, which just got me all misty again. However, I’m pretty sure he made quite a few people cry that night with his touching words. Damn you mega-Matt!! 😉

Also, having Troy and Tanya fly up from Vegas was also pretty special. I can’t imagine having gotten married without all those close friends in attendance. We didn’t have a huge wedding by any stretch of the imagination, but every single person there was integral to making it a memorable day, and every one of them share a part in our story of coming together. They all mean the world to us.

I’m feeling a little disjointed in this post, so perhaps I should close it off. And how better than to talk about the end of the night for me. Don’t worry, this blog is generally rated G, so I’m not going to go anywhere crazy. BUT, I would like to send a special shout-out to all the ‘friends’ that helped prep our wedding suite. Rose petals and champagne? NOPE. Try: short-sheeted bed and a stack of 10 lawn chairs on the bed interlocked and stacked as a ‘puzzle’. Thanks guys! Add to that temperatures at freezing, no firewood or kindling, and you can see why it was a late night. We didn’t finish the clean-up till around 3am. THEN I had to somehow start a fire. Luckily, I’m creative. With only a box of wooden matches, a tiny bit of newspaper, and some logs that I pulled from the smouldering bonfire outside, I got things going. Deanna was a little worried when I stumbled in with two smoky logs, ember side up, staggering over to the woodstove to get things going, but I survived my caveman quest to bring fire to our wedding night suite.

3 hours later, when we had to get up, it was oppressively HOT in there. Ha ha. That was a good thing though, as it helped us get mobile, pack everything up into the car, then hurriedly rush off to a family brunch, before doing a really fast packing job and leaving for our European honeymoon!! But of course, that is for another blog post.

So, with all that, I close off with this thought for all of you. I have found love. Love has found me. Life has forever changed, and brought us both on a new course together, and the world is an even richer place than it was to me before. I couldn’t be happier or more fortunate to have all that I do in this life. I vow to never take that for granted, and in tough times, remember exactly what I have, and why it makes all other problems not matter. I love you Deanna. My love, my life, and now my wife!

Thanks to some great help from a friend at the wedding as well, I managed to get a fair bit of footage to help me edit together a few videos to commemorate the day. I’ve split them into 3 easy-to digest videos below. Enjoy :-). I promise you don’t have to sit through the WHOLE thing again!!

Wedding Video 1: Pre-Wedding

Wedding Video 2: Wedding Ceremony

Wedding Video 3: Wedding Reception

Spring is Here, and the Sap is Flowing!

Hey gang, just thought I should check in with everyone and let you know what Deanna and I have been up to. As you are all aware from the last post, the winter race season was over, so now I’m sort of in between races and events, and focussing on training and also just trying to have a good time. With that in mind, I figured I’d write a quick post about a trip to a friend of ours’ sugar shack a little over a week ago. Deanna had never been to a sugar shack, and we decided that we’d go for the full-on authentic experience. It was made doubly a good idea by the fact that we were hosting Deanna’s sister Cheryl with us for the weekend! What exactly do I mean by the full-on authentic experience? Well, read on and find out. Here’s a tip though: there were no tourists, we had to hike in, and we were even put to work! To see pictures of our little visit to Mike Caldwell’s Ark, and his very own sugar shack, head over to the flickr folder chock full of maple syrupy goodness. Aftwerwards, click through to read the rest of my little story.

Before I get too far into my tale, allow me to apologize if I get any of the facts or figures wrong. We learned a lot about the process as we were there, and we did our best to remember all the exact details, but there may be some mistakes. Perhaps Mike will point them out to me later, but if not, just take our word for it, ok?

Mike is one of those guys? One of what guys you ask? Well, he gets ideas. And when these ideas percolate in his head, they have a way of happening. He’ll be the first to admit that he usually doesn’t know what he’s getting into, but he finds away. Witness the fact that he lives off the grid with Monique in an old barn that was completely renovated by him personally to become his center of operations for his personal business, as well as his dream home. Also, have a look at the paddocks with horses, a llama, and alpacas. Check out his grass roots races, etc. etc. He gets an idea, and he goes for it. I respect him for it, and am always intrigued to find out what is new at his property. Last year, he tapped a few trees the old fashioned way with taps and buckets, and made some tasty syrup. However, this year, he decided to ramp up production and try to sell some of his wares onsite.

This is where some of the stats come into play. At the moment, they have about 300 trees tapped on his property. These are all connected with feeder tubes into main collector lines. There are a couple of these lines which subsequently all carry the sap to his sugar shack. I believe the goal is to have up to 500 of his trees tapped and feeding his system. The best days for getting the sap flowing are warm days and cold nights. Unfortunately, we’ve been staying pretty cold all the time, but last weekend, conditions were ideal, so Mike was planning to go full ‘steam’ ahead. Pun intended.

The sap was running at about 25 litres per hour. To get syrup out of it, you need about 40 litres of sap for 1 liter of syrup. So in about 2 hours of flowing sap, you’d get approximately 1L of finished syrup. In the time that we were there, Mike only actually bottled a single liter of the sweet stuff, but the main reason for that is that he still wanted to work a bit on his system, and particularly the filtration. Another interesting stat for you all. When you have the pure sap, it is at about 3-4% sugar. In order to be syrup, you really want around 64% sugar. How do you get there? Well, you have to boil out as much liquid as you can. To do that, you use a big evaporator, which is exaclty what Mike had in his sugar shack. I ginormous evaporator that he bought off a guy that was getting out of the syrup game.

At the inlet side of Mike sugar shack were two 400L holding tanks, as well as a 1200L overflow tank, just in case he wasn’t able to keep production up. When we arrived, the two 400L tanks were pretty much full, and the evaporation process was well underway. We were showing at the critical time. Sap was flowing like mad, and the boiling process was going very well. Not only do you want 64% sugar, but ideally the sap needs to be boiling at about 7 degrees over the boiling temperature. As a side note, in order to get the maple taffy type syrup that is poured over snow, you need to boil it at about 34 degrees above boiling. How exactly do we boil the sap? Wood. Lots of wood. A roaring fire burns at one end of the evaporator, and a fan blows the heat through the system of tubes what the sap is fed through, allowing it to heat and boil off so that at the far end, we are left with syrup.

This wood is where we had to employ a little muscle. The stockpile was running low, so we headed out with Mike weilding a chainsaw, and us dragging a sled of sorts with a wood box mounted on two snowboards. Mike cut, we loaded the wood and took it back to the shack. Our reward (well actually our bribe before the work) was grilled cheese sandwiches cooked in the shack. Yum! All the while, we used an optical instrument to check the sugar content. When the time was finally right, we poured out a lot of about 12-15L of pure syrup. Yum! The final step was a 5-stage filtration system that Mike and I had to make last-minute modifications to when he realized it was connected backwards!

Once finally connected properly, we poured off a liter of the filtered product. Let me tell you, this stuff tasted amazing. However, Mike was unhappy with the lack of clarity, and decided that he wanted to filter the entire batch a 2nd time to clear out all the impurities. That would be done after we left for the day. I had sort of expected a huge amount of syrup, but after the first batch of 12-15L, I realized it would be a while. After all, we had just gone through about 600L of sap! All I know is that we can’t wait to get our hands on a bottle of our own syrup from Mike to use over the course of the next year. Aunt Jemima eat your heart out!

All in all, a fun afternoon that Deanna, her sister Cheryl and I spent out at the Ark. It’s always fun to get out in to the rural regions and enjoy a day in the clean air doing a bit of physical labour and enjoying the company of great people. No wonder I love being outdoors as much as I can. Quite a contrast to the bright lights of Vegas that I find myself in as I write this post. My window at the Mirage looks out over the insanity that is the Strip, and I only wish I was back enjoying the ‘pioneer’ life at Ark. Ahh well, all good things in moderation, right? I’ll leave things there, and give you a sneak peak at my next post, running in the canyons around Vegas in snow!! Till then, enjoy the great weather we’re having!

Into the Darkness for Mad Trapper Race #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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