Burning Rubber and Missing Checkpoints

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Good day race fans, and welcome to another edition of ActiveSteve’s race reports. I’m writing to you about my most recent race experience. On the weekend of July 21st and 22nd, Carl and I took part in the Raid Pulse staged race. This was the first time I raced in a staged race in its entirety. You see, I previously did race in a staged race, but I only participated in the second day. This was the Sea2Summit race a couple years back when Kevin supported me. This time I had the time to do the whole race.This particular race was based in Montpellier, QC, and would consist of 3 separate stages. The first stage would start on Saturday morning, and last 6 to 8 hours. The second stage was to be a night stage of 2-3 hours. The final stage would be another day stage on Sunday again lasting 6-8 hours. In order to be well prepared, we decided to head up to the race site on Friday night, and beat the morning rush, since it was a 2 hour drive, and we’d need to register as well as get all our gear together by around 9am. Read on to hear all about this fun experience. To save you any suspense, no, we didn’t win, but we did have a great time, and raced well as a team. To check out some pictures from the race, head over to my Flickr folder.

To get things started, I first had to get back to Ottawa. Back to Ottawa? Yup, I was actually out of town on business again the week leading up to this race. I had headed up to Montreal for Thursday and Friday, which meant I had to have all my gear packed up and ready to just get in and head out. For any of you who have participated in this sort of thing before, you’ll realize that asking me to be packed up a couple days in advance is asking a lot. I sort of use the night before to mentally go through all the gear, and the possible race layout by checking out maps of the area. However, in this case, I’d have to just throw my gear together, and leave it a bit to chance. Oh well, such is life, right. Luckily, this was supposed to be my last trip for a while, so after this race, I could get back on track with my training. So where were we? Oh yeah, Friday night. 7pm, I got into the Fallowfield train station, and got home just in time to throw my gear in the car, and head over to Carl’s to pick him up on the way.

He had also been out of town earlier that day for a work party, so he had just gotten home as well. We packed up and hit the trail. We didn’t get to Montpellier until almost dark. Just as we were coming into the area, we noticed a rather thick blue smoke in the air. We figured it was just a fire somewhere. Curiously, as we got out of the car, we noticed a pretty acrid smell in the air as well. A bit like burning rubber. A tire fire maybe? Then we noticed there seemed to be a lot of squealing tires. As it turns out, there was another big event going on in Montpellier that weekend, and you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. The other event was this rather odd thing where people got in their cars, and would spin the tires until they blew up. I kid you not. It made the air reek, and was really loud. Originally, we were supposed to be camping outside that night, but the town instead let us sleep indoors in the recreation centre, as a result of the other ‘characters’ and their noise. As you might suspect, they weren’t flower carrying peaceniks, but more likely to be wearing flannel checked shirts and swilling Blue. I hate to judge, but seriously, what kind of person gets their jollies burning tires in a parking lot? And I’m not just talking about a couple people, we’re talking about hundreds of people! Anyway, enough about that, let’s move onto the race stuff.

As we checked in and registered, we noticed the first unique thing about this race, which was that we would not be paddling canoes as we had expected. In the registration area, was an inflatable tandem kayak. As it turned out, we would be using these for all the paddling legs of the race. This probably meant we’d be going through some interesting terrain on the water. Part of the fun was pumping the boats up ourselves. Originally, Thierry was going to make us deflate them and re-inflate them a few times, but in the end, we only had to do it once. The first boat that Carl and I were given actually had a puncture already, so we were given a second boat. We hoped this wouldn’t be a sign of things to come with these kayaks! The rest of the check-in was pretty straightforward. The only other thing we had to do was get a quick certification for rappelling, as there would be a nice little cliff descent at some point in the race. The only other tricky part of the race was how to organize our transition bags. We had two bags, as well as a camping gear bag, which we’d only see once during the race. Also, the other two bags would only be seen at certain points in the race, so we had to carefully plan out what clothes, food, gear and water we’d need in each bag. If we put in the wrong gear or other stuff in the wrong bag, we’d be straight-up out of luck. We packed the gear up as best we could figure out, and then hit the hay on the concrete floor of the rec hall.

The next morning came faster than I could imagine. The sun was streaming through the window of the rec hall, and things were starting to get busy around the check-in. Carl and I got up and started our final gear prep. All that remained for us was the rope check off, which we finished off pretty quickly. Next we pumped up our boat for the race. Then, it was time for the briefing. The maps were handed out and we got our first look at the course we’d be racing. On paper, of course, it looked quite easy. Just get from point to point as fast as you can. The terrain didn’t indicate anything too whacky or different from other races. There seemed to be a good mix of disciplines over interesting terrain. Of course, we were only getting the maps for the first day’s stage. We’d be getting the maps for the other stages right before we started them. For day 1, we’d be first doing a bushwhacking section, followed by a lake paddle with one portage, up to a municipal beach. From the beach, it was time to hop on the bikes to a remote spot in the woods. From here, it was onto another bushwhack / orienteering section to finish off leg 1.

After the briefing, we had just about an hour to decide whether we needed to make any changes to our gear planning for the transition bags. Carl and I were pretty sure we had it sorted out the way we wanted, so we opted to just chill out a little bit. We dropped our bags off at the right drop-off spots, and gradually got set for the starting gun. Our plan was simple. Go hard. Do our best, and see what could come up with for a finish. At the starting gun, we tried to keep in touch with the top teams, but they were starting at a pretty blistering pace by running hard. Although we didn’t stay right with them, we did manage to nail the checkpoint on the way to the first transition area. We felt good about this first leg, and were looking forward to the paddle.

Sadly, we are clearly not the strongest paddlers in the bunch. We were a little slow getting our kayak into the water, and watched with disappointment as the lead teams slowly got away from us on the water. Luckily, we weren’t being passed by other teams either, so our placement was staying pretty consistent. We paddled on, doing our best. At one point, we were getting closer and closer to another team, when I noticed they were using their paddles upside-down. You see with a wing blade, there’s only one way to use the paddle. I was a bit torn. Do I tell them, knowing it means they’d probably pull away, or just go by them? Well, hopefully you guessed that I told them. They were glad to get the news, and set about paddling correctly. Happily, we were pretty matched in ability, so we paddled with them till the end of the paddle leg.

Once at the transition, we moved quickly to get on the bikes, hoping we might be able to make up some time. It was a distance of about 32km on various trails. Some were old rail beds, others secondary road, and a lot of ATV trails. At this point, Carl and I agreed that we were definitely having a good time, and that our abilities were pretty matched. On the bike, he would tow me now and again to keep our speed constant, whereas when we were bushwhacking or trail running I’d put him on a tow and give a hand as needed. Neither of us felt like we were really being held back, and the combination of both of us equalled a strong team. We pushed on to the end of the bike leg with no great surprises. Towards the end, there was a pretty steep climb on a rocky road, and we managed to pass a male duo. It made us feel pretty good, but then I noticed that one of the two was riding with no seat! It had broken 5km into the bike leg. D’oh! Poor bastard.

At the top of this climb, we had another transition area, where we were heading back into the bush for an orienteering / bushwhacking section. These are usually my favourite sections, because you really have to rely on your ability to read the terrain and make decisions on what to do. Often times in a race, this is where you can really pull ahead or fall behind depending on the terrain. More on that later 🙂 At the start of this leg, we had a couple options. Either take a straight bearing and head into the woods, or follow the trail back to a lake we’d passed later and follow the shore, or the third option, which we chose, which was to follow the road back about halfway to the lake, but then follow a stream to lead us pretty much directly to the checkpoint. Carl wasn’t keen on the straight bushwhack, as his knee was really bothering him. We made our choice, and stuck to it. We were happy with this choice, as we essentially popped out of the woods about 8ft. from the CP. Cool. Of course, then we noticed there was a pretty well worn trail that headed back to the head of the lake, meaning other teams may have beaten us there. Oh well, those are the choices you make. We had fun on our route!

Again for the next checkpoint, we opted to follow a trail for a while, then follow a river to another lake’s edge, and follow the shore to the next CP which was on the shore. There was an option to take a trail further, then cut East, but when I looked at contours, it looked like there would be more vertical gain/loss on that route, causing more trouble potentially. By all accounts, this CP was the crux of the day. Many teams spent a lot of time trying to find it. Even though we were right on the shoreline, we couldn’t even see it when we were essentially on top of it. I had spotted it quite a ways back along the shore by heading out to a point and peering along the shore. But even once we got to it, it was extremely hard to spot. Luckily, there was a solo racer right there, and he told us we were right on it. Even with that news, it took a few minutes of crashing around the shore to find it. After getting this CP, it was a quick bushwhack back to the trail, which we followed to the finish of stage 1. The sun was beating down on us, and the volunteers and race crew were there to cheer us at the line. We finished that leg in 6 hours and 6 minutes, giving us an 8th place finish. Not too bad.

After leg 1, we had to set up our camp, and re-energize ourselves with food and rest. It was an idyllic location, with a snowmobile lodge , and spectacular lake-side camping, We set up our tent close to waters edge. Since there were still another dozen or so teams to come in, we got to chose a pretty prime spot. From our tent site, we could just make a few steps to a dock for washing up and cleaning gear. We cooked up some delicious food, talked with all the other racers, then crashed in the tent for a solid couple hours of sleep. The next race briefing was slated for 8:30, with the stage starting at 9:30.

When the time came, we rolled out of bed to get set. The raced director had taped up some maps showing the location of the next checkpoints in the night leg. Rather than giving us new maps to work from, we had to add the new checkpoints to our existing maps. D’oh! Kinda wished I’d known that before I went and marked all over the other maps. Oh well, them’s the breaks. The night leg was a bushwhack followed by a mountain bike leg, with the start and end being at our camping area. We got our first surprise when we noticed that the first checkpoint was located on the other side of the lake we were camping on. There were two ways to get to it. Either hike all around the lake, or you could swim directly across and back again. The rules state that you have to be 100m apart maximum as a team, and the CP was only 60m across at that point on the lake. This meant only one of us had to do it. I graciously volunteered.

This of course meant I would be wet for the rest of the leg, but it was a pretty nice night, and I didn’t think I’d suffer too much. Just to be sure, I took my shirt off, so that I’d at least have a dry shirt to put on. Also, in a dry bag in my pack, I had a jacket and a pair of splash pants, just in case. Why a dry bag? Well, the other part of the rules is that you need to carry all your mandatory gear, so I’d have to swim with my pack on. What fun. Most other teams opted to take the same approach, which made for a neat start to this leg. We all tore out from the camping area, running to the woods where we’d swim from, then there was a swarm of headlamps in the water and on shore. I managed to get out of the water 4th or 5th (well, after the top 3 teams, which had a head start). This was a good boost for us, and we got right back on track to see how fast we could finish this leg.

After the watery checkpoint, it was off to where the bikes were waiting for us through the woods on trails and/or bushwhack. We opted to use trails as best we could, and found ourselves making good time. Before too long, we saw the fire where the volunteers were waiting with the bikes. Carl and I made a quick transition and booted it on the bikes. The key to a successful night biking leg is lights. So we made sure we had some mega-bright ones on. We pushed hard and it paid off. We hit the next checkpoint dead on, and soon found ourselves on the same railbed we had followed earlier that day to get to the next checkpoint. We picked that one up, and it was now onto some gnarly ATV trails to get back to the campsite. We had been warned that this would be messy and treacherous, and that since it was only 5k to the camp, we could chose to hike it if safety was a concern. Well, it wasn’t a concern for us. We had good lights, and decided to bomb it through the mud and roots. It was a blast. Too bad there aren’t any pictures from that. By the time we made it back to the camp, our bikes were totally covered in muck, as was I, thanks to and endo that I did in a deep sink hole!

Upon arrival, we were happy to hear we had placed 7th on that leg. We had definitely made up some ground. After chatting for a few minutes with the race crew, we decided to turn in for the night to rest up for the next leg. Rather than go straight to bed though, I wheeled my bike straight to the dock, and dunked the entire bike in the lake several times, and shook it a good bit to try and clean off the mud. We’d undoubtedly need the bikes the next day, and I wanted to get it as clean as possible. I also put out as much of my wet clothes as I could, in hopes the early morning sun would dry them out a bit. We knew that early the next morning, we’d have to cook, break camp, prepare for the next stage etc. etc., so time would be at a premium if we planned to get much sleep. We were also blessed with a God-send right before sleeping. A volunteer had a leftover cold slice of pizza, and we were the first to call dibs, so Carl and I shared an awesome cold slice right before laying our heads to ground for some z’s.

Dawn broke before I knew it, and we had only about an hour and a half before we’d be off again. We each got busy doing various things. Sadly, I never got around to cooking anything, so I settled for trail mix, a cereal bar, some chips, and a Clif bar for breakfast. Oh well, I’d have food with me, and the longest we’d be out would be 8 hours. Once again, the same maps had to be used, so I got busy marking the day’s route. We’d be starting on bikes for a good 26+kms, then do an orienteering section, follow that up with a 6-8km paddle, and finish off with a 3-4km run to the finish. The sections didn’t look overly complicated, so we set out with a goal of 6 hours in mind again for this leg. This would put us in about the same spot as we had in the other two legs. During the orienteering section, we’d also get to do the rappel.

When the start got underway, all teams started together once again, and the pace was crazy fast (in my opinion). We stayed with the top teams for the first few kilometers, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it up for the full 26km. So we dialled it back a little bit and fell into our own rhythm. We hooked up with another solo racer who was at our pace as well, and the three of us worked together to keep a good pace going. We managed to pass at least one team on this leg, and didn’t feel to demoralized when we got to the transition to the orienteering section. We were still in the top half at least.

We once again had a quick transition and were in and out in no time flat. The orienteering section didn’t look too tough, as all the checkpoint were within a one square kilometer radius. Of course, when you’re in the woods, one square kilometer is enough to pose a challenge when looking for a little flag on a tree! Ah yes, and the ever so fateful reading of the instructions. We got nailed by that little thing once again. There were pretty specific directions telling which dirt road would lead us to a trail that may head in the right direction. Instead, I opted to follow what appeared to be the obvious route choice on the map, and sure enough we found a trail. So we headed into the bush with high hopes of nailing the next couple checkpoints.

After a little bit of time, like 20 minutes, we expected to come across some tell-tale signs of where the CP should be located. The directions said to look for a creek, which would lead to a marsh, which is where the CP was located. We were sure we were in the right area, and found a couple creeks. Well, for the next hour or more, we followed every creek to every marsh, with no success at all. We had come across a couple other teams, including one fellow I highly respect, doing about the same thing we were doing. To save you some suspense, the thing we had done wrong was that we took the wrong initial trail, which took a slightly longer route to get to the wrong area. So while we had the right idea, we were just a bit off. When we finally gave up, we decided heading to the rappel site would actually help us out, as the other CP was due south of there, so we should be able to back-track and find it.

Well, as luck would have it, we came across the missing CP as clear as day on our way to the rappel. Curses. We’d wasted at least an hour on dead ends, only to find it in an obvious spot! The main reason for this was one team that we came across on the very same trail, telling us they had gotten CP13, and were on their way to CP14, which meant it had to be behind us. What we failed to realize is that they had gotten all turned around and headed all the way back to the lake to get their bearings, and in the process had doubled over their tracks. So while we thought we had to turn around, all we had really needed to do was keep going a little further. Double curses! Oh well, such is life.

Sadly, by the time we emerged at the rappel site (which we nailed), we discovered we were the second last team left to come in. What a crushing blow, but you have to figure that’s what’ll happen when you lose a whole hour in a 6-8 hour race leg. We still took the time to enjoy the rappel, and the view, and even goof off a bit. You see, the clock stopped while you were at the rappel site, so we took and extra few minutes to eat some food and re-hydrate. Once we’d picked our spirits back up a notch, we dropped off the edge of the cliff, and worked our way back to the transition. Luckily, finding our way back out was much easier. We picked a trail, and stuck to it. That’s when we popped out on the gravel road a little further than where we had entered, and realized how that had screwed us up. Well, nothing to do but get paddling now.

Yet again, we made a quick transition, and hit the water in our tandem kayaks for the last time. We really made progress in this race with quick transitions. I’ve been learning the importance of that in both adventure races and in triathlons, and it’s something I’ve been working on, so we were happy about that. This paddle leg started out in an open lake, but soon went into a twisty windy, grown-over river. This meant a lot of steering and working together. There were trees blocking our way, and lots of foliage all along the route. I haven’t done a paddle like this in a race for quite some time. On the one hand, it was great due to less boat traffic and wind issues, but on the other hand, it was getting sort of frustrating to have to correct the boat’s movements all the time, and duck under things and not get the long kayak paddles caught in trees, etc.!

However, the most memorable part of this paddle has to be close to the end for us. We were paddling along, minding our own, when around the next mend comes this roaring power boat! I kid you not. I’m talking about an area where there isn’t even enough depth to really get a boat engine in the water. This guy was all alone, and clearly having a really good time running and running this twisty river. Luckily he stopped before running us over. We used him as a litmus paper, to get confirmation that we weren’t all that far from the lake, knowing the transition would occur before then. He told us it was, and carried on further back the way we came. We knew he’d have to turn around, as we’d just shot through a ‘tunnel’ a little bit back. So we just kept heading forward, knowing we’d see him again. Eventually he did, causing a nice big wake behind him. Too funny. Soon we made it to the transition, and this was the last section. Yay! Running to the finish.

We pulled our boat out of the water, and dropped it off on the land where we were told to. I kept my PFD on, and got set to just start running. We figured that every second would count, as the final standings depend on all three legs, so we though maybe pushing hard to the end might help our overall placement. We took off at a nice quick pace, and after a little bit, I clipped Carl onto a tow line to help pull him along. What goes around comes around, as he had helped me lots on the bike, so I was happy to help out any way I could. We passed one team on the run, and had another in our sights, that we chased hard right to the finish. I pulled poor Carl so hard, that his nose started bleeding! It made for a funny finish line picture, that’s for sure.

We were glad to be done this leg, as we had definitely experienced some high ups and downs over the course of that section. However, we were still in great spirits, and looking back on the whole event we had definitely had a good race. We had come out to push hard and race smart. We succeeded at that, and in the process had confirmed to each other that we made a good racing pair! We’ll definitely do more races together in the future. I think I’ll just be doing one more race this season, with the SAC champs in September. For that race, you have to be in a team of three, so we’ll probably hook up again, and convince Anne-Marie to join us for that adventure! Hope you enjoyed my long-winded story again, and stay tuned for more exciting tales…

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