Off to the Races

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Hello my friends, thanks for tuning in for another chapter in the ActiveSteve life story, as laid out before you all on the world wide web. This story is about a fun race that I volunteered for last weekend, the Frontier Adventure Racing season-closing Fall Classic, which was held in the whitewater region of Ontario / Quebec, and more specifically, hosted by Esprit rafting. The race was a 10-14 hour race, and the host site is about 2 hours away from Ottawa. Although I would have preferred to actually race in the event myself, I just didn’t have the training under my belt. What’s that? Why didn’t I say I couldn’t due to my knee? Well, you’ll just have to read on in order to get the full story, won’t you? Before you do that though, have a look through the pictures that I posted up on flickr, and take a peek at the custom map that I made through the course of my volunteering.

So what’s the deal with my knee? Well, as of Thursday, I was given the green light by a sports doctor to get back into my training regime. And the price to pay for this? Well, no surgery required, and not even a corticosteroid shot. Apparently, my months of inactivity on the running front let my knee get back into shape. The bruising and micro-fractures of my knee have sorted themselves out, and the swelling from fluids building up was also gone. Sweet. However, as I haven’t been training, I just didn’t think running a 14 hour race was in my cards, so I decided to just close out my volunteering season with one final hurrah. After all, I was given the fun title of VP of Creating a Party Atmosphere. What could be more fun. Originally, I was asked to just run the finish line fun, but I told Geoff, the race director, that I’d be happy to do more than just that, by being out on the race course.

A number of my friends from the race community were doing this race, so I had plenty of people to cheer on and see to the finish line. Since the race was to finish off on Saturday afternoon, it had to start at the ungodly hour of 4am. Which of course meant that all of us had to get up even earlier than that. I headed to the race site right after work on Friday, and even with that, I didn’t get there till after 8pm, putting me on site right when the race briefing was starting. At that point, the racers learned that there would be a remote start, which meant they would be piled into buses at 3am, and taken out to the start line. I hadn’t been told exactly what my role would be during the day yet, and given the early start, I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to get up early.

After the racer’s briefing, it was time for the volunteers to get together and find out what had to be done. I finally had a chance to get a look at the race overview in a little more detail, to see what the sequence of events would be. Normally, there would be a number of different segments, and a few different transitions, but this race was looking pretty straightforward from the logistics perspective. It was going to be starting by a trekking section, transition to paddling, then transition to bikes to finish the race off. Only one section of each discipline. This made things a little simpler for the crew taking care of moving the gear around, and gave me the option of doing as little or as much as I’d like. In the end, Nicky, a friend of mine who races on with the all-female super team the Salomon Bobkittens, decided to join me for a while during the race, and we choose to head out to one of the early checkpoints which were supposed to be unmanned. From there, we planned to stay for a while, then head over to the biking leg of the race to do some biking with the teams.

The only problem with our plan was that it meant we’d have to be getting up at the same time as racers in order to make the trek out to the remote checkpoint. In the end, there was a dog barking for a long time in the camping area, so I didn’t fall asleep till around 1am, and had to get up just after 3am. Yuck. Nicky and I got our stuff together, then took my car to get near a trail where we could hike in to the checkpoint. As this was supposed to be an unmanned CP, racers actually weren’t expecting anyone there, so we were going to surprise them. We ended up hiking a little too far on our way, so we had to backtrack, but by the time we got to the CP, we were still there far in advance of any teams, and it was still completely pitch black. The CP itself was in a swampy area, but we managed to find a mostly hidden vantage point in the woods nearby, with a big rock to lean on as we waited. We thought teams would start trickling in by 5-5:30am, but we didn’t see a soul until around 7:45am I think. By then, it was completely light out. Guess we could have slept in anyway. The first team was actually a solo racer, and he was sure he was far behind and had screwed up. He was quite surprised to find out he was the first through our CP. Of course, racers could choose to complete checkpoints in a different order, but it was still a boost for him.

After that, teams started gradually trickling in. They came from a number of different directions, which seemed a bit odd to me, given that we were at the furthest point north of the race, but it turns out there were a number of trails through the bush, and some of them made teams overshoot the actual location. All racers looked pretty beaten by the trekking. That’s what happened when you start in the complete dark at 4am, and have to make your way straight through thick woods with only a map and compass. A number of them were completely soaked from having gone through various swamps. However, the vast majority were in high spirits, and having a good time. As a reward for getting to CP3, Nicky had brought along a tub of Jujubes, and was offering them to the racers as a CP3 treat. Seemed to be generally appreciated by all 🙂

We hung out at CP3 much longer than we had anticipated, on account that it took teams a lot longer to get there than we thought. We tried radioing back to HQ or others on the course to let them know the progress, but the radio was all but useless in our location. Too bad. We eventually made the executive decision to head back out to the car, in order to get onto the bike course. There were still almost half the teams out there on the bushwhack, but we wanted to get in some biking. When we finally raised someone on the radio, they relayed that Geoff had thanked us for being out there so long, and told us we could go do something else. Sounded good to us. After all, there were far too many bugs out there in the swamp, which had surprised us given the time of year. Either way, we were offered on more than one occasion some bug dope by thoughtful racers.

Once back out of the woods, we climbed in the car and started zooming along to the first transition area, where racers were finishing off the trek to get into boats to start their paddle. I was struck by just how beautiful a day it was turning out to be. The paddle followed a river all the way to the next checkpoint, and although it looked to be a reasonable distance, the paddle itself had all the markings of a perfect fall run. The water was dead calm, with no wind to be seen coming from any direction. The banks of the river were lined by trees that were just changing colour, with plenty of browns, reds, oranges, yellows and greens to captivate the wandering eyes of any bored paddlers. I sincerely wished I would have gotten the chance to paddle that stretch in my kayak. However, I had no boat with me, so could only imagine dipping my paddle in the water. Instead, I took a few pictures of racers on the river. I hoped they were taking the time to admire the scenery being presented to them.

After dropping off a control sheet to the staff at the transition area, we kept making our way along the water to the put-out spot, where racers would then be transitioning to mountain bikes to start what looked to be a fun mix of trail riding, combined with some country road riding. I get enough of road riding at home on my daily commute and Gatineau park rides, so I was only interested in tackling some of the trail sections. In fact, I only really had time to attack the section from the start of the bike up to the summit of Mount Chilly. Lucky for me, this seemed like it would be the best part of the ride anyway. Nicky and I changed over our gear, put the bikes together, and hit the trail. We actually started out just after the second team that had pulled in, and just ahead of the team currently in third place.

Seeing as we were destined for a summit, the trail pretty much started off going uphill right away, and stayed that way for a while. That’s not to say it was all uphill. As is normal with these sorts of ATV trails, there were a bunch of downhills as well, but the ultimate goal was to be the top of the mountain, and a lookout spot nonetheless. At the summit teams were supposed to help out with a community project by rebuilding a shelter up there. Unfortunately, the supply truck from Canadian Tire never showed up, so there was no construction work going on. Too bad.

The biking wasn’t all perfect however. All along the heavily wooded sections were thorn bushes. Raspberries perhaps? Now I know why they are RASPberries. The limbs rasp your skin raw. I had made the error of going in short sleeves and bike shorts, and I paid the price. I made several donations to the wilderness blood bank both on my way up the mountain, and on the way back as well. Thank goodness the view from the top was so nice. It pretty much made up for any suffering. Again, I hope racers took a second to enjoy the view. That’s the one nice thing about volunteering. I could actually take the time to appreciate the surroundings more fully than when my adrenaline is pumping and all I can think about is the next checkpoint.

From the top of Mount Chilly, Nicola and I were to part ways. I had to get back to the finish line to set up the race finish, and she had decided to carry on by bike and try out the rest of the bike course. Lucky her. We had a great time hanging out together, and it would have been nice to finish off the day on the bikes with her. Heck, we should have just raced the damn course as a team with a third! Perhaps some other time. At the top, we went over the maps for a few minutes, then we set off down the hill until we hit a fork where I went left, and she went straight. That was almost the end of the training fun for me for the day. All that remained was running the finish line.

I passed a few teams slogging their way up the hill as I was heading down, and shouted words of encouragement to everyone that I could. By the time I got back to TA2, there were quite a few teams sorting through their gear and getting set to take to the bikes. It was encouraging, but apparently there were still something like 10 teams still out in the water or trek. I had a feeling that a few might not make the cutoff times and would have to take shortcuts. I had a quick chat with Geoff, then hopped in the car to beeline it to Esprit. Once back there, I actually had the chance to take a hot shower before getting the festivities underway.

At first, I thought there would be a sound system at the resort, but that didn’t pan out. In fact, there was nothing there for me to use. Luckily, I had brought quite a bit of my own sound gear, and managed to hobble together a PA system from my gear, combined with my car! Yup, it turns out I have a pretty potent little PA system in my Rav4, once you connect an inverter, and iPod, a mixer, and a microphone to the auxiliary in on the stereo :-). My only worry was running the battery down, as I didn’t even have access to an outlet! However, it all worked out quite well, and I had plenty of time to amuse myself picking out songs for the finish line, and listening to myself talk into the mic!

I tried to keep things flowing and fun at the finish, but after people have been racing for upwards of 10 hours, on almost no sleep, it’s pretty hard to maintain a party atmosphere. Racers would stay for a little bit, but inevitably they’d wander off to clean up, sort gear, eat some food and/or grab some rest. Can’t say I blame them. Regardless, I tried coming up with fun little stories to say about some of the teams, and stayed out there almost the whole time, up until the official race cutoff. Most of the teams had nothing but good things to say about their experience, and were happy to share their views with Geoff, who spent a fair bit of time outside too. Meanwhile, indoors, other volunteers were collecting all the timesheets and race passports from the racers, in order to work out the final results. The order at the line isn’t the order of winners, since some teams get all checkpoints, while others miss a few, and yet others may have taken shortcuts due to time cutoffs. Keeping all that information organized is one of the keys to a successful race, and timely delivery of the results.

After the finish line was finally closed (we stayed open till the very last team checked in), it was time to refuel with a hearty pasta meal, and the awards ceremony. This is always a funny time, as people are just so bagged, that it’s hard to keep things moving along and keep everyone engaged. We got through that, but then, it was supposed to be party time! However, the live entertainment wasn’t starting till 9 or so, and it was only 8pm. A lot of people had good intentions, and came to the bar area for a while, but they either couldn’t stay up, or had to leave in order to get back home. In the end, there was only a hardcore group of about 15 of us who stayed up to watch ‘Downstream Dave’ (I think) entertain us on his guitar. As the night wore on, there were fewer and fewer of us, until it was down to Geoff, myself, and just a couple other volunteers.

That didn’t stop us from partying though, as my pulled hamstring will attest. At one point, I was dancing, pulled out the splits and blammo! Pulled my muscle, which is still as I write this in a fair bit of pain a week later and after a massage. I suppose it’s possible I actually tore it a bit, but I’m pretending that’s not the case. Pretty unglamorous to have an injury after the race as a result of dancing, don’t you think? I’ll pretend that it was mainly due to exertion during the day, and was only sent over the top by the alcohol fueled dancing frenzy 🙂 I closed the night off by accompanying the music on a djembe (African drum) that I found in another room. Again, my bruised finger joints will attest to the zeal in which I pounded along to the music. I called it a night finally around 1am, and was happy to zip myself into my cocoon for a solid sleep.

The next morning, I more or less rolled out of the sleeping bag, packed it all in, and headed for home. There were a few conversations along the way with friends, all in various stages of packing up as well. I was actually roused by the sounds of Bobkittens milling around my tent. They had set up my [removed] car seat in front of my tent, with a cup of coffee and a banana to serve as a nice relaxing breakfast. Nice. Apparently, they didn’t want to take my car seat home in their van, where I had left it the day before. I dusted the cobwebs out of my head and hit the road, another event successfully in the bag.

I’m already looking forward to next year, where I can once again be back in the racers jersey instead of the volunteers clothes. I definitely enjoyed helping out this year, but the itch to get competitive again is just too strong. That was it for the 2008 season for me, and I think the next event won’t be till the snow is flying in early 2009. Stay tuned for that. Till then, stay warm and stay in shape kids! Don’t let the winter ruin anything you’ve been working towards. There’s plenty you can do even in the cold. Bye for now!

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