Near Flawless Season Finisher

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Howdy all, well, the time has come to write up my last race report for the 2007 season. Yup, I’m planning to take it easy for the next couple months before heading to New Zealand. Well, not totally easy. I’m hoping to actually do some strength training in preparation for the 4 months of cycling. In particular, I’ve got to get my legs in solid shape for the huge number of mountains I’ll be biking up 🙂 However, you’ll get to read all about that as my trip gets underway. For now, you’re here to read about the Frontier Adventure Challenge Canadian Champs race that I just finished over the weekend at Bon Echo. It was a super-fun race, and I’ll do my best not to go overboard on the descriptors in this post, so that I can keep your attention. Before I get the story underway, feel free to head over to the folder on flickr for some pictures that I took before, during, and after the race. Sadly, no map this time. I had the Garmin on, but accidentally hit the stop button 14km into the 100km race. Anyway, read on my friends…

In order to set the stage for the fall champs race, I should mention that I seem to be cursed every year for this race. The past two races, I had to come up with a team-mate at the very last second to fill out my roster. And guess what? This year was no different. Five days before the race, Carl and I were still looking for a third to fill out the team. We really wanted to race as a co-ed team, and were seeking high and low. Luckily, James and Sophia hooked us up. They were supposed to race with a girl in this race, but had decided not to race after all. Lucky for me, that left Jen D. looking for a team. Sweet. I had never met her, but since we were stuck, and she was coming with a recommendation, we took the plunge and recruited her. She was extremely energetic about it, and her background in running, soccer, and triathlons looked like it would be a good fit.

The rest of the week was spent getting gear ready, and preparing for the race. Jen only called a few times over the week to ask a few questions. She didn’t really have any adventure race experience, but sometimes that’s a good thing. If you don’t know what to expect, you can’t get too freaked out about it, right? By Thursday night, I was ready to rock. My gear was all packed, and Carl was going to pick up Jen and I at my place around 5pm so we could be at Bon Echo by 8pm for the map distribution. There was a slight miscommunication, and Jen actually showed up at 4pm at my place. Luckily Jody was there, and after I chatted with Jen, she did a bit of shopping before meeting us again at 5pm. We got the Xterra loaded up without incident, and headed out for the park.

We made it to the camp just in time to get registered quickly, and in time to collect our maps at about 8:05pm. Shortly after that, the rain started pouring down. What? Rain? The forecast had called for clear skies all night, and perfect weather for the entire weekend. This was most unwelcome. At the race briefing, we scolded Geoff a bit for his bad choice of weather. He assured us that it would only be like that during briefing, and would clear up after that. Funny enough, he was right! After the briefing, Carl and Jen worked on getting the transition gear bags ready while I worked on the maps. By the time the gear was set up and the bikes dropped off, the rain had stopped. Thank goodness, we had yet to set up our tent, and didn’t really want to do so in the rain.

We made our way to site 215, and I got the tent set up in double time. Our plan was to hit the hay as fast as possible, to maximize our sleep time. Of course, at most, it would only mean 3-3.5 hours of shut-eye, but that’s the way we roll. Before we went to sleep though, I decided to go through the maps one last time, not just for me, but for the whole team. I went through the whole course step by step with them, explaining the routes I had chosen, and how the transitions would work. It was a good way to get set for the race, to make sure I knew what we were up against. The course was longer than a ‘normal’ 12-14 hour course would be, stretching about 100km consisting of an initial bushwhacking/trekking section, followed by a long paddle, followed by a long bike leg, and wrapped up with a final 8km paddling sprint to the finish.

The alarm went off at 2:50am, giving us about 50mins to get set and to the start line. At 3:50am, we were getting the ‘prelude’ maps. To spread the field a little bit, there was an initial sprint start with a quiz question we had to answer in order to get out ofCP 1. The reason for this was so that all the boats wouldn’t get caught up together. To start the trekking section, we had to paddle across the lake to a trail. We had a great start, and were among the first 5-10 teams to hit the trekking leg. It was 4am, so it was totally pitch black. In my opinion, this was the perfect way to start the race. As it was a trek, it was the least dangerous way to do a night start, and was the strongest way for us to start. I’m very comfortable with navigation nowadays, and felt confident crashing through the brush in the dark. We pushed hard, and we could immediately see that Jen was very strong. We all chatted and joked along the way, getting to know each other, and supporting each other.

We made great time, and made it to CP2 in pretty quick time. When we checked in, we were told we were the 7th or 8th team to check in. Awesome. We were pumped about our initial seeding, and hoped we could hold on to it for the race. We were about a third of the way through the initial trekking leg, and I could see the nextCP would probably be the trickiest one. It was on a peninsula around a lake. We could get there partly by a trail, then had to take a bearing to hit the lake. I took a bearing so that we’d hit the lake, then could just skirt it to the peninsula. Although there looked like there might be other ATV trails heading the right way, we opted to cut through the woods, as I didn’t want to wind up way off course on a wrong trail. It worked well, and checking intoCP3, were told we were still in 8th place. Yippee! Time to push on.

We could see a bunch of other headlamps continuing on around the lake, and we chose to do the same thing. It appeared that there might be an ATV trail heading towards the next CP from the south edge of the lake, and we hoped to hook up on that. Sure enough, we picked up the trail, and made our way to CP 4 / TA1 to start the paddle leg. We made a quick transition, and were off on the lake just as the sun was beginning to make its presence known. And wouldn’t you know it? We were still holding on to 8th place. We knew this would be in jeopardy over the next several hours, as the paddle was quite long, and this was not our strongest suit. So, in order to hold on to that, we really got down to business, and focused on our technique and form. I was really impressed how well we were working as a unit. When we put our minds into it properly, we were really making good time, and were very much in sync.

The paddle was all flat-water, with only a couple mini portages along the way, all in the first half of the paddle. There were a couple really shallow sections where we were scraping the bottom, so we had to jump out to get the boat through those spots. Well, actually, it was more like Carl would jump out, and drag us through those spots. After all, I wouldn’t want to get my precious feet wet 🙂 We had a little give and take with a couple teams on the paddle, but we made it to the take-out pretty close to them. I think one team beat us to the shore, and another was right behind us. This was all the motivation we needed to keep us going.

We took enough time to heed the call of nature, snap a couple quick pics, and get changed for the biking leg in double time. Heeding the call of nature was another thing we did in an efficient manner. Out on the water, Carl had started complaining that he really had to go. Unfortunately, due to our good placement thus far, and the proximity of other teams, we really didn’t want to pull over and lose any time. So, Jen and I convinced Carl that he had to just let ‘er rip out the side of the boat. I’d done it in past races, and told Carl it was totally possible. With that, he gave it his best shot. He pulled it off without a hitch 🙂 It was very obvious that he wasn’t lying about having to go. Another proud moment for team Hyper-Active! But I digress, back to the transition.

Up to this point in the race, we’d been wearing jackets, as it was chilly in the morning, but we could see that it was getting brighter, and would likely get warmer as well so we shed the jackets, hoping it would warm up. We hopped on the bikes, and started spinning our way along the roads. The first half of the bike leg was all on secondary roads. For me, that was awesome. With all my road training this past summer, I’m very much at ease on roads, so I was thoroughly enjoying it. Carl, on the other hand, is really a trail rat, and wasn’t enjoying this part of the race. Jen was basically neutral, just kept plugging along. By this point, I was pretty sure nothing could phase her. We had no incidents on this section at all, and got to CP6 in a good time. The staff at that checkpoint let us know that we were still in 8th place. We also had to make the choice here whether or not we’d be attempting the advanced section in the upcoming leg, which was all remote biking on ATV trails.

As we were making such good time, we didn’t even confer about it, I instinctively said yes, and we got back to the business at hand. In the end, it turned out that 75% of the finishers did the advancedCP (6A). There was really no reason not to. From this point, we hit the trails in the woods, and paid close attention to the distances and the race directions to make sure we didn’t mess anything up. You see, during this section, we were on trails, but they weren’t marked on any maps, so we couldn’t be 100% certain about where we were at any particular point in time. To complicate matters, there were numerous random intersections which we’d come across. Again, this is where experience pays. By taking the time to double check our directions at each possible intersection, we were able to get to the next point without any mistakes. Not everyone was so lucky.

The advanced checkpoint was next, and is was essentially a 2km spur off the main trails we were following. We had to follow an ATV trail to a creek, then cross the creek area to pick up the trail on the other side. At this point we’d hooked up with another team of guys, and worked together a bit to find our way down the trail. Once at the creek, we split up, and we managed to pretty quickly find the trail on the other side. We followed it to the swamp, and found what we were looking for (a wooden box painted green). We double back, meeting one of the other guys on our way. Their team had split up a bit to do the searching. We got to the bikes, and started our way back up the trail. The 3-man team passed us for a short bit, but we’d meet up again. We had a bit of a panic again at this point, as we passed 3 other teams making their way to the advanced checkpoint. Yikes. Yet again, this gave us the motivation to get booting.

From here was another tricky little section with lots of intersections. I relied almost exclusively on the compass and our general location on the map. This is when it became apparent to us that the other team of guys was sticking close to us, and that we could probably get past them in the technical biking sections. It seemed they might actually be relying on us a little bit to make the decisions at intersections. We’d beat them to certain points, then we’d pause to make the call, and just about that time, they’d come around a bend, and just follow us instead of making a choice for themselves. It was getting a little old to us, and we really wanted to break the cycle.

We finally got our chance at an intersection down the line. We all got there are the same time, and this one was a bit trickier. One way seemed to be the right way in our minds, but the compass might tell a different story. I made our route choice, but waited to see what they’d do. They opted for the other choice, and as soon as they got around a bend, I told our team to haul ass and take the other route, as it was the ‘right’ one. Luckily I was right, and from here on, we worked extra hard to stay ahead of them. They probably wouldn’t go too far before realizing their mistake, so we had to capitalize. By pushing hard, we made it to the final transition point atCP 9 before them. All that was left now was the final 8 or so km paddle to the finish.

We wanted to make sure we were out and paddling before the other guys even made it to the transition. As such, we again made a quick transition, pausing only a few moments to chat with the volunteers and snap a couple pictures. It turned out that the boats were a little jog away, so we took off at a good pace. We grabbed what looked like the best boat and started paddling hard. Happily, the other team hadn’t even made it in yet. At this point, we were now up to seventh place, and we were determined to hold on to it.

Before too long, it became apparent this boat was not all that we’d hoped. The bow was a little low in the water, and this canoe was moving slower than the one we’d had earlier in the day. The 11 hours of racing were also catching up to us, but we were on a mission. If there was any doubt in our minds, I turned around, and was shocked to see a team on the water pushing hard to try and run us down. We assumed it was our nemesis from the bike leg, and we did not want them to pass us. Unfortunately, we knew it would be hard to win on the water, as these guys had run us down on the last paddle. We wouldn’t go down without a fight though, and for the next hour, we paddled harder than I’ve ever paddled at the end of a race. It literally felt like a full sprint for the entire 8km paddle. I’m happy to report we made it, and beat them to the shore.

Unfortunately, we BARELY beat them, and as we were jumping out and starting the run to the finish, and I do mean run at this point, they were right on our asses. We had to carry all our gear to the finish, and were totally redlining. I doubt there’s ever this sort of sprint for seventh place in many races, but we were hungry for it, even though they weren’t in our category. They caught up to us within about 100m, and we chatted jovially enough given the circumstances. That’s when we saw it wasn’t the team we had expected, but another team (who are normally very fast it turned out). We still wanted to win the sprint, but it wasn’t as crucial to us anymore. They ducked into the woods earlier than I thought we should, but it turns out they made the right call, as soon after, I heard a team yelling at us to turn into the woods.

It was the BobKittens, who saw us going too far. Damn! I’d hoped the other guys had made the wrong choice, but it turns out that due to our speed, we were actually the ones going too far. The finish line was now a mere 50m away, and we just didn’t have time to close the gap. We ended up cruising in and crossing the line mere seconds after them. It felt awesome. All three of us were all smiles, and we couldn’t be happier with our result. We’d finished in 8th place overall, and 3rd in our category. Out of 29 starting teams, I think 21 or so finished the race. This was my highest finish in a FAC. What a rush. We’d finished early enough that we had time to both shower, and sort through our gear before the meal and awards.

We decided that we’d stay over and camp a second night, so that we could just relax that night. Plus, Jen was really hoping to camp, as was I, so it was a nobrainer . She let Carl and I know that she’d race with us again in a heart-beat, so I’d say the race was successful in every respect. We had our post-race meal, and sat around having a couple beers while Geoff went through all the awards. Afterwards, there was a nice little bonfire to hang out at. Carl and Jen headed back to the campsite shortly after 9pm. I had a few more beers, and struggled bravely to stay up and socialize with various volunteers and racers. I think I managed to be the last racer up, but that was still only at 10pm!

We had a great snooze that night, and were up before 8am the next morning packing up the gear. We hit the road by 8:30am, stopping only for an amusing breakfast at a roadside diner, with a surly waitress / owner / cook, and her rather interesting “country clientele “. I’d write more about that little adventure, but it has little to do with the race! All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, and I think we may have turned a new person onto adventure racing, which makes it all the better. Jen, we had a great time, and we’re looking forward to racing with you again. Thanks for the good times, team-mates. And thanks to you humble readers, for reading another race-inspired tale fromActiveSteve. Next up… prepping for NZ!

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