Another Wickedly Wild Weekend

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I’m baaack. Yup, for all of you folks who have been waiting with bated breath for news of the latest actions of one ActiveSteve, here I go again. You’ll note that I’m using the vernacular ActiveSteve rather than current usage (in)ActiveSteve. There’s good reason for that, as will become apparent should you choose to read this post in its entirety. Not only have I decided to get a little bit of running in on the side, I’ve also taken up more active volunteering activities, such as the weekend long staged Raid Pulse adventure race up at Lac de L’Argile. I volunteered at another adventure race a couple months ago, but this one was a multi-stage event with a full day of racing on Saturday, a night stage in the middle of Saturday night, and a full day of racing on Sunday. I knew that this time, Thierry would be giving some more active roles than I had the past weekend at the 5 Peaks race, so I had to be in top form. It was a total blast, and read on to find out all about it. I’ve also treated you to a custom map from the event, as well as a collection of images on flickr. Enjoy, then follow the ‘read more’ link.

Before the weekend got underway, I wasn’t quite sure what Thierry would have me doing. The last race, I picked up the van which was used to move around bikes and bags for the race, and I ended up spending a lot of time just driving around in the van, as opposed to spending time on the racecourse. To those ends, I had brought up my mountain bike and all my gear, but I didn’t even get a chance to use them. It had left me a little disappointed, and I think Thierry and Annick realized it, so a few days before the weekend, they contacted me and told me to bring out all my race gear and my bike once again. My duties would involve acting as one of the race course managers during the race. That meant that I’d be out in the middle of the race, following racers, and collecting checkpoints once the racers had gone through them. There were a couple of us, in order to be able to cover different sections of the race at various times. I’d also be carrying around a race radio, and logging teams through the checkpoints at a few spots. Sweet. It definitely sounded like something to get excited about.

I had a brief scare a little closer to the race date, as I got an email asking if I could pick up the van. It was deja vu all over again. However, in the end, someone else was able to pick it up, so I’d be hitching a lift with Carl instead, who was planning to take part in the race as a solo racer. That made me a little sad, because I haven’t had the chance to race with him at all this summer, and we should be training and racing together more to get ready for future races. However, at least I’d be taking part in the race in my own way, and able to give him help in whatever way I could over the course of the next couple days. We were planning to head up on Friday night, get a decent night’s rest, in order to face the next couple days refreshed.

We arrived later than we had hoped on Friday for a number of different reasons, none of which are very important. By the time we got to the race registration area, it was already getting late, and I wasn’t looking forward to setting the tent up in the dark. Luckily, it turned out I wouldn’t have to. Thierry told me that as a volunteer, I would get to sleep in the dorms Friday night at a lodge. Carl even managed to talk his way into the dorm as well, since he was with me, and it was my camping gear. Before turning in for the night, I had already gotten a set of the race maps and my marching orders for the following race legs. Of course, this was not in Carl’s presence, as he wouldn’t get to see the race course until the official unveiling the next morning.

At a high level, here’s how I’d be spending the time: First, I’d start the day off by racing ahead of all the teams in order to place the first checkpoint along ATV trails that they’d be biking on. I’d also be on bike in order to get there, so I left about 45 mins. before them. After the last team checked through CP1, I was to follow them (or pass them, as the case turned out) and make my way to CP2, where Marc Andre (the other course manager) would be waiting. Once again, after the teams all made their way through that one, we’d both bike together to CP3, which he’d set up right before the race as well. Once all the teams got through that one, well, as you might guess, we’d follow them to TA1, where the teams would be transitioning to an orienteering / bushwhacking leg.

I should mention that in the course of the opening bike leg, the heavens opened up and rained on us like you wouldn’t believe. Had I been racing, I may have been spared, as the lead teams stayed fairly dry, but by the time the last teams went through, it was coming down in buckets. There was also an impressive number of lightening crashes. One of them happened around CP2, and literally made everyone in the area nearly jump out of their skins. I don’t think I’ve ever been as close to a lightening strike as there. No word of lie, the lightening was blindingly bright, and a microsecond after was the loudest thunderclap I’ve ever heard. I’m pretty sure it struck a tree just around the bend from us. Just a tad scary, but I’m a big boy 🙂

The plan from TA1 was that Marc Andre and I would wait at TA1 until everyone got through the trekking section, then retrace the route and pick up the orienteering checkpoints from the woods. However, it was raining so hard, and there were a number of teams too far back to make that feasible, as we were needed at the next section of the race in order to set out the next few checkpoints again. Normally, the volunteers would get shuttled around in cars around the course, but we opted to stay on our bikes and take the long way around. In the meantime, the racers would be paddling along a lake. I had no issues there, as it turned out to be great training for next year’s mountain biking race. Marc Andre, although I had never met him, was a good riding partner, and we had a good ride.

Our next stop was in a provincial park at Lake Echo, where all the racers would be setting up camp between race legs. I arrived just in time to quickly set up my camp, then head out into the bush to set up that nights first checkpoint, CP6, which was located on a point at a lake off in the woods. Marc Andre was with me, and we had a good time doing some bushwhacking. We’d gotten a bit of misinformation, leading to a slight error in judgment. This resulted in us popping out directly across the lake from where we needed to plant the flag. I thought about just swimming, but we actually had to verify the placement by setting a GPS waypoint where we put the checkpoint, and I didn’t think the GPS would like the swim. So, we had to bushwhack around the lake for a while, scaling a few little cliffs and making our way through some little swamps. All in the name of fun, right?

Upon return from setting up the checkpoint, it was time to chow down on some food, and then get set for the race briefing and such. I was beat, and hadn’t planned on doing much else for the night leg. I was going to hit the sack after the racers took off around 9:30. It didn’t quite work out that way, and I stayed up for a little bit helping Annick do some clean up on the camping area, so that everyone would be able to get out as quick as possible in the morning. I also kept a radio on to hear the chatter as the race unfolded. Carl was doing quite well in the race, and he was sitting comfortably in the top 3 in his category. He did very well in the night stage as well, which bode well for the final day’s leg.

The following morning, while everyone else was getting set for the final leg, I headed out on my own to retrieve the checkpoint. However, this time, I planned to follow a path to the lake, then just swim out to get the flag. To me, the most efficient method was to just strip down and go for it. Yup, that’s right, early morning skinny dip for ActiveSteve in a lake in the woods. All would have gone perfectly had I not been made aware of the fact that there were leeches in the water, so I was just a little paranoid. Happily, after a thorough inspection upon exiting the water, I determined I was clean. Whew!

For the rest of the final day of the race, I was supposed to spend my time at the ropes section, where teams were to rappel down a 30m cliff, then free-climb their way back up if they were doing the advanced section. They would top-roped for safety, but that didn’t make it an easier task for the teams. However, I first had to get to the ropes section. Which would prove to be a little more challenging than I had anticipated. There were a number of logistical hurdles, such as the fact that the race truck broke down, leaving equipment stranded, plus the fact that I had been placed at another checkpoint roughly in the middle of nowhere 😉

As a result, I was delayed, but I did finally make it to the area of the ropes section, but with no clear idea of how to get to the top. This would prove useful in the long run however, since I would need to repeat my steps several times over the course of the day. Eventually I found my way to ropes team, and I quickly realized that it might be a challenging place to find for the teams. As a result, we expected teams to only start showing up a little later. That gave me a little time to at least try out the ropes for myself. So once again, I got to experience a key part of the race course on my own. I haven’t climbed in a while, so I really enjoyed the chance to scale the 100ft cliff. The climber on site reckoned that it was probably only a 5.5 rated climb, but that was if you had climbing shoes on. With our oversize sneakers, it was probably more like a 5.6 or 5.7. It was a tiring climb, but quite rewarding, not to mention the view was stunning.

The teams did start funneling in, and we quickly ran into a backlog, because while there were 2 ropes in use for the rappel, there was only one rope to be used for the climb, and it was located right next to the rappel ropes. This meant that someone could only climb when the rappel was clear. Given that climbing was taking about 15 minutes, you can easily see why it created a clog at the bottom. Eventually, we set up a second climbing rope, and I helped out by belaying from the top to help out the two girls who were helping out at the bottom.

The section leading up to the ropes was pretty much the crux of this days race. It was a rather long orienteering section, and I guessed that some of the teams that had been bringing up the rear may have some problems. This all came into clear focus late in the afternoon, when we were still waiting for the final two teams, which had been racing together for the whole race, and had consistently come in last place. Normally, that may not bother me too much, but I actually had to head back into the woods in order to pick up yet another checkpoint in the race. CP13, the last checkpoint of the race right before the ropes.

The later it got, the more I figured I wouldn’t even make the awards presentations, or more importantly the food. You see, I had no idea where that CP13 might be, and how hard it might be to find, given that I was just doing a straight bushwhack to it, and it had started to rain again. I guessed it could take me up to 2 hours from getting the checkpoint to the time I made it to the finish line, because I was now on my own, and traveling by foot. In the end, I made an executive decision to head into the woods to retrieve the checkpoint before the last team got to the ropes course. Luckily, on my way to the CP, I came across them in the woods, and they were on the right course to make it to the cliff. I left them hoping they’d make it to the rappel site, and focused on retrieving the flag at CP13.

Once I’d gotten it, I headed straight back, and en route learned that not only had they not made it to the ropes, but the ropes section had actually been taken down, so they wouldn’t find anything if they’d make it there anyway. When I finally got back to the cliffs, the teams were nowhere to be found. I headed to the base to talk to the last of the volunteers, who were heading to the finish line in a van. They gave me another radio, and I said I’d stick around till I found them again. It took a bit of time, but finally I spotted them high up in the cliffs, and they were clearly having a hard time getting back down. I tried to talk them through, but in the end I had to make my way back up anyway to help them out.

I had a few emotions about that. First, I was a bit annoyed, since it had put us way behind schedule, but more than that, I was actually pretty happy for them having made the journey together. They were all in pretty good spirits still, and were still getting along well as a team. The more important trait of an adventure racing team is that they stay strong as a team and get along through thick and thin. In spite of being dead last the whole weekend, they seemed to still feel good about it, and although a bit down about missing the cutoffs, still wanted to finish the race as a team. We made it down off the cliffs, and I let them navigate us all to the finish line. I’d been getting a number of radio calls from Thierry asking where we were, as by now, the ceremony and meal were long over, and he was trying to keep everyone there long enough so they could cheer in the last teams.

When we got close to the finish, I stopped short so that they could finish the race as a four-person team, not a four-person team and a race volunteer tagging along like a little puppy. It was a great ending for them though, as everyone that was left came outside and cheered really loudly for them arriving to the finish. In other finishing news, Carl ended up coming in 2nd place overall for the Male solo category. It was a great conclusion to his race, and bodes well for our future races. As for me, I can honestly say that I haven’t pushed myself quite that hard in a long time, and it felt great!

I’d love to keep on babbling for you all, but I think this post is quite long enough. I hope I’ve given you all a taste for what my weekend was like, and hopefully you can all understand why it is I get so excited about all this stuff, and why it is that it bugs me not to be able to race this year. I’m really hoping this will all be behind me next year, but in the meantime, I’m learning new stuff as a volunteer, and I’m glad to give back to the race community. Till next time, gotta get back on that bike 🙂

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