Winter is a great time of year, isn’t it? When else can you go from a balmy spring-like day to a massive snow dump in just under 24 hours? So began the weekend of double races for me! I had signed up quite a while ago for all three races in the Mad Trapper Snowshoe series, the last of which was to occur on March 6th. Luckily for me, the Raid Pulse Winter Adventure race was also scheduled for the same weekend, and I decided to go ahead and sign up for it as well. The idea of this race was to get in some good team dynamic building by racing as a team of 4 racers with my Hyper-Active team. Unfortunately, the race only accepted pairs of racers, so we signed up as a co-ed team of two (myself and Anne-Marie), and a male team (Steeve and Carl). The main goal was to see how we’d get along as a team racing together, in preparation for the longer summer races we’d like to race as a team. Anywho, this post will be about the first race of the weekend, the 6-8 hour winter AR race at Plaisance, Quebec, which is a town about an hour east of Ottawa on the Quebec side. Read on for more about that.
As usual, the days leading up to this race were all about getting the gear ready. Tuning up the bike, waxing up the skis, and so on and so forth. The snow coverage had been getting kind of thin in the past couple weeks, so I wasn’t sure how the race was going to turn out. As it was, we were told that the race would be equal parts skiing and snowshoeing in the first half of the race, followed by a back-roads bike leg along secondary roads. Depending on the snow cover, the first leg would be all about speed, and possibly sticking to well-worn trails. Well, two days prior to the race, on Thursday night, we got a massive dump of snow, which was even heavier towards the race location. In fact, it snowed on and off for the next couple days leading up to the race. Looked like there would be no shortage of the white stuff for us.
Saturday morning rolled around before I knew it, and the four of us met at Steeve’s place at around 6:30am. We were planning to drive to Plaisance in two cars, so that we could fit all the gear, and make sure we could get there safely. We wanted to get there by 7:30 so that we’d have plenty of time to register, do gear check, and organize all of our stuff. The good part about this race is that all Raid Pulse races hand out pre-marked maps, so you don’t have to go to the trouble of plotting all the UTM co-ordinates. All you need to be concerned with is planning your route, and making note of all the various course instructions. When we got there, we could tell that it was going to be a brilliant day, with temperatures easily hovering around the zero mark. This would turn out to be both a blessing and a curse, especially concerning the cross-country skiing.
We got all our stuff laid out and organized in a pretty quick fashion. We got registered in a breeze, and were signed off in short order. All that remained was to wait for the race briefing. We’d already found out that the race would feature a remote start, meaning we’d all get to pile into school buses and get driven to the start line, wherever that would be. That also told us that the race would likely be point-to-point, and probably finish off as a bike leg to the finish. Very similar to last year’s Raid Pulse, where Jim and I came in 3rd in the male category. I had high hopes for this race as well, and was ready to push through whatever we had to in order to make that happen. Well, it would turn out that push through was exactly what we’d have to do, what with all the snow that had fallen in the last 48 hours. The extent of that statement would become clear within the next couple hours, when the starting gun went off.
At the race briefing, we were given our maps, and soon saw that this would definitely be a fun course. The opening of the race was left up to our own choice, either snowshoe or ski, with the only stipulation being that we had to carry all the gear for both disciplines with us as we went. From a quick scan of the topo maps, we decided that for us, the best option would be start off with skis, since the first 2 checkpoints were just on the outside of a skiing area, and from there, we were going to cross a couple checkpoints that were located right on groomed ski trails. I estimated that we’d be traversing only a couple kilometers of off-piste tracks to get to the groomed trails. It sounded like a lot of other people had the same plan, and people were busy getting skis waxed up in preparation. To me, it just made more sense to not have to swap between skis and snowshoes several times, as that would no doubt lead to lost time.
We wrapped up our map prep work, and loaded into the buses. We had decided that Carl and I would split the navs. In truth, I wanted to let Carl run with it, to get a feel for how our team would work in the summer. I’ve been used to doing all the navigation in my past races, and I was hoping that we’d have a secondary navigator up for the challenge whenever needed this summer. So I let Carl make the calls, and just gave my opinions and went along with his decisions. It worked out quite well, and after the conclusion, I feel good about the possibility of having two navigators on our full summer team 😉 Now back to the race. The buses traveled along for probably a half an hour, to a side road out in the rural areas surrounding Plaisance.
As we exited the buses, it became apparent VERY quickly that we were going to be up against some pretty unique terrain challenges. One of the things to note here is that at the briefing, we were shown the race course, and told that in order to make it to the advanced section of the race, teams had to make it to T2 by 2:15pm. Keep that in mind. As we stepped into the snow, or rather sank into the snow, we were amazed at just how much snow was there. Without skis or snowshoes, the snow easily went up to our thighs in parts! Even with skis / snowshoes, the depth was up to our knees. As a result, a number of teams opted to switch to snowshoes right off the bat. We chose to stick with our plan. The official start was announced in 10 minutes after we arrived at the start. I’ve gotta be honest, it was one of the slowest starts I’ve ever seen. It was like the entire racers field was in slow motion.
For the first hundred feet or so, people actually tried to jockey for position. In no time flat, there were bodies strewn all around, as people fell in the deep snow and struggled to get going again. After the first hundred feet, the racers began merging into two or three lines, taking advantage of following the front peoples footsteps. In another hundred or two hundred feet, almost everyone had taken to racing in single file, some in snowshoes, some in skis. Every time someone got frustrated and tried to make a move, they soon realized the folly of that. It was literally impossible to pass anyone, due to the deep snow. As a result, we were actually positioned pretty far back in the line-up, but enjoying a very easy ride. As many people (50 or so) were in front of us, they had packed the snow down quite well for us, so we just glided along, saving our energy for the next sections.
This went along fairly smoothly (albeit slowly) to CP1, along a creek. From there, teams did actually start making tactical decisions on how to get to CP2. We opted to follow a valley around the hills, snaking along a creek, and eventually cutting North to hit CP2 close to the ski trails. Other teams went directly over the hills, and yet others kept going all the way around the hills. We ended up being part of about 8 or 10 teams that had taken up our strategy. It meant a bit of bush-whacking, but was a fairly flat route to get where we wanted. As a result of the snow depth, this turned out to be a good call. Our navigation was pretty spot on, and we popped out of the woods on a ski trail not a hundred feet from CP2, manned by Benoit Letourneau. When we checked in there, we were told we were only the 7th team to show up there overall. Sweet! From this CP, we were to follow a network of groomed ski trails to CP3, then CP4/TA1. Luckily, they really were groomed.
Unfortunately, the air and snow temperatures, coupled with the sun and shade in various parts of the trails made for a pretty hellish ski for a lot of people. The general consensus was that those with fish scales (i.e. waxless skis) were in the best position. Personally, my skis weren’t too bad. I did have intermittent super-grippy and super-slippy sections, but I just put up with it and skied hard through it. Unfortunately, Steeve was having a really bad time with the conditions, and had to stop several times in order to try and tweak his bases so that things would work better. It was a bit frustrating for all of us, and we’re sure we lost a fair bit of time as a result, but shit happens in a race. All we could do was keep our spirits up and enjoy the ski. And what a spectacular day it was for racing! We were really taken by the terrain and trails. Anne-Marie and I skied ahead for a while, admiring all the outdoor trail-side art. If you get a chance in the summer, I think the area we were in has bike trails as well, and there really was neat sculptures and stuff along the way. Eventually, relieved, we made it to CP4 / TA1!
From here, we were welcome to pick CPs 5,6 and 7 in whatever order we wanted to, after which we would hit TA2, and decide whether we’d continue on to the advanced section or not. At TA2 we’d lost a few places, but were still in a decent position overall. This section was more about bush-whacking, and we opted to switch over to snowshoes. Many teams chose to go in order, from 5 to 6 and 7, but we chose to go to CP7 first, which was the furthest. Our plan was get the hardest spot first, then work back to the beginning again. For this section, we had a great time working on our navigation, and even met up with a lead team that had gotten turned around in the woods and were heading the wrong way. After consulting with them, they agreed that we were on the right track, and we carried on as a group. Eventually, we let them go ahead, and raced our own race. With tight navigation again, we managed to snag CP7 pretty easily. The good news from the volunteers there was that we were only the 4th team to arrive! And the 3rd were the team that had just been with us.
Of course, what that really meant to us was that most teams were indeed opting to go the other direction. This first leg of the snowshoe section was another proof of the deep snow challenges we had in store. I broke trail for most of the way, and it was definitely taking a toll on me, but I wanted to push hard and see what I could pull off. We trudged on to get to CP6 in the hills around some lakes. Then a funny thing happened. We came across a ‘super highway’ in the snow. Apparently, all those other teams had basically followed each other through the woods between CPs 5 and 6. Although the routing wasn’t optimal, it quickly became clear that our best course of action would be to simply follow the tramped trail. What we would lose in inefficient routing was more than made up for in speed. As a result, we picked up CPs 6 and 5 with little fanfare, and soon found ourselves at TA2, getting ready for the bike.
At TA2, Thierry was there to cheer us on, as well as James and Benoit. We were chided for being too chatty, rather than focusing on the transition by Benoit, but we’re always out for a good time, as well as a good race. We also got the intriguing news that NO teams had made the 2:15 cut-off for the advanced course, and instead, CP7 had become the ‘advanced’ section, so we had already completed the advanced section! Sweet. All we had left was a relatively straightforward bike leg along the roads, and one final CP at the beautiful Plaisance Falls. Again, a highly recommended place. I’m pretty sure I’d like to head back that way this summer for some biking hopefully with Jody 😉
The bike leg was actually another thing we were really looking forward to. Steeve is a strong biker, and Carl and I have been doing a fair bit of spinning through the winter to train up our biking legs. The three of us had tow systems on our bikes, and wanted to try out some towing. This included towing in pairs, as well as trying out a 4-person tow train. As my story has now gotten quite long, I’ll just confirm that our bike leg went pretty smoothly. The 4-person tow was pretty sweet, but I think it will work even better in the summer on better roads. The only funny part during the bike leg was that Carl, Steeve and I all had spasming cramps on our inner thighs. Anne-Marie escaped this pain luckily. We attributed this to the awkward snow-shoeing in the deep snow, where we had to walk sort of bow-legged. After doing that for a few hours, then hopping on a bike and pushing hard.. well, I guess it was just too much for the muscles. Luckily, because we could all tow off of each other, we could take turns stretching while someone else towed. In that way, we didn’t have to all stop each time someone cramped. We’ll be taking advantage of that all the time in the summer methinks!
The 20km bike leg was wrapped up in about an hour and twenty minutes. We crossed the line with big smiles, and with a time of just over 7 hours. It would take some time to find out what the exact standings were, but happily for Anne-Marie and I, we managed to get 3rd place in the co-ed category! Huzzah. The guys didn’t place quite as highly, as many male teams had already come in, but overall we were pretty happy with our performance. Solid navigation, good teamwork and team spirit. Sure we had a few issues along the way, but nothing to worry about in the long run.
Post-race, the highlights were some tasty beers and snacks (provided by everyone’s favourite captain..me!), and cold showers. Yup, we had access to showers at the town fire station, but sadly, they ran out of hot water before we got there ;-( This was slightly offset by the fact that the tiled floor was heated (and burning hot I might add). After the clean up, we enjoyed our post-race feast, and the awards and prize-giving party. We headed back home around 9pm. I was looking forward to some good shut-eye, since I was set to get up again the next morning around 7:30 to get ready for the snowshoe race! But more on that in the next post. I’ve gotta sign off for now.