Cottage Champs at the 2009 FAC Champs!

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Welcome back to another exciting chapter in the life of ActiveSteve. I’m especially excited to write up the story for the race that I just took part in last weekend. Specifically, I’m talking about the 2009 Frontier Adventure Challenge fall champs which took place at Rosseau Lake in the Muskoka region of Ontario. This is a great race to close off the adventure racing season for a lot of teams, and never fails to impress. The format is simple. 10-14 (or more) hours of gruelling off-road racing mixing orienteering, paddling, trekking, mountain biking, and sometimes swimming. This year’s edition of the race was another doozy with some interesting results, as you’ll learn about if you read my whole post. For starters though, you might want to check out my folder of pictures onflickr (I carried my camera on course), as well as the custom map that I put together of the route we took. If you look through the map, you’ll probably see a couple spots where we strayed from the ‘ideal’ route 🙂 Also, you’ll see it isn’t a complete map, as the battery died on my GPS. For the record, I did have permission from Geoff, the race director, to wear my GPS to make this map. I wasn’t using it as a navigation tool, merely a track recorder. Once you’re done checking that out, come on back and read the rest of the story.

First off, let me give you a quick dump on our race result. I was racing in the co-ed category, and we finished 6th in the category. Overall, we finished in 15th place. You can pore over all the gory details in this spreadsheet if you so desire. A quick look through these sheets will also reveal that of the 43 teams that started, only 20 completed the race under the allotted 14-hour mark. Of those, only 9 teams completed the advanced section. 6 teams managed to finish the race course, but took more than 14 hours. The remaining 17 teams got aDNF, abandoning the course at different points! So all things considered, we were happy with our result.

I was originally thinking of racing this one solo, just to put myself to the test in a real challenge. After all, I’m in great physical shape this year, and just wanted to know where I stacked up against some of the other strong teams. However, with only a couple weeks to go, I was contacted by Alex Provost, a well-experienced racer looking for a team-mate. Having already qualified for the AR World Championships in Portugal in November, I knew he would be a great team-mate. Our 3rd member was Marlene, a girl really excited about trying her first ever adventure race. I decided to join them as these races really are more fun in a team. We were racing as Team Raid, as I had won this race entry at one of the races put on my Raid Pulse. Plus, with Alex taking the lead role, I would have to navigate, and could focus on the physical aspects of the race, while also being able to take some shots during the race.

We booked a cottage at the nearby Clevelands House resort, where we bunked with another team and another solo, for a total of 7 of us in one cottage, and 3 different teams. Hence, the
“Cottage Champions” moniker. You see, we were the only official finishing team in the mix. Our solo guy had to pull out due to mechanical problems, and the other guys finished the race, but after the 6pm cutoff time. Made for a fun weekend though, with all of us sharing a roof and swapping stories. It also helped us save a few pennies, considering the price of accommodations in this area, that was a good thing.

The race itself was laid out in a pretty straightforward fashion. A total of 3 regular sections, plus 1 advanced section if you made the time cutoffs. The opening salvo was a paddle, followed by a nice trekking section, topped off with an epic biking section spanning over 70km! At the tail end of the biking section, if you made it to CP 8 by 3pm, you could tackle the advanced section, which was another tricky little trek. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t have to worry about that section 🙁

At 4am on Saturday, we all found ourselves in the boats bobbing around in the dark waiting for the starting gun. The maps were all drawn up, and we had out ‘ideal’ routes planned out, and were raring to go. It isn’t very often you start a race with a long paddle in the pitch dark. It can make for tricky rescues and such if the weather turns nasty. However, there wasn’t much fast moving water to worry about, although there were plenty of chances to teams to go off route if they weren’t careful (and many did!). Our focus was on paddling steady, and not going off course. Things got a bit dicey a few times, when we passed through more open areas of water, and the wind picked up delivering little swells, coupled with headwinds. When you have 3 paddlers in a canoe, if your paddling isn’t totally in sync, it can be a real frustrating slog. We had our moments, but came our relatively unscathed. I think we came off the water somewhere around 16th place. Interestingly, our position would remain unchanged for most of the race, in spite of a number of boo-boos.

We pulled off a slightly sluggish transition, clocking in at 16 minutes. We could have been a bit quicker, but we took the time to make sure that Marlene had all she needed, and talk a bit about transition strategies before taking off down the road. It was important that we had things planned out, as we didn’t want to go to hard only to realize we forgot something important.

The trek itself was a real fun one for us. We had made a few route decisions the night before which we though might give us a leg up on other teams. It involved taking a gamble on a water crossing. On the map, it looked as though we’d be able to make a short crossing of a swamp / river, and avoid a longer hike around the water. Of course, maps can be deceiving , but in this case, we got lucky. The crossing, although up to our heads in depth, was relatively short, and allowed us to get back on track quickly. We relied on railroad tracks and other features to help keep us on the right route. You’ll note on the map that we did make one fairly major mistake, but luckily, it was on a trail, so although it looks far, we were able to jog most of it, so only lost about 20 minutes. Up to this point Marlene had been doing really great, but towards the end of the trek, we could already see that she was getting a bit tired. This caused us a bit of worry, as we had a 70+km mountain bike on tap next!

Once at the second transition area, we worked hard at a quick transition, in order to keep the momentum going. Any additional stops would start to eat at our ability to reach the cutoff at CP 8 (we were still hoping to do the advanced course). The transition was 11 minutes, and we made sure to grab extra food and water, as we’d be out on the course for quite some time after that.

The mountain bike section was one of the better biking legs I’ve seen in a race in a while. The majority of it was off-road, using a combination of snowmobile trails and powerline trails (always a crapshoot how those ones work out). Although there hadn’t been too much rain recently, there was still for reasons unknown to us, a TON of muddy ‘lake’ puddles all along these trails. The terrain also made it quite difficult to try and do any serious towing of team-mates. Marlene was super-tough and stuck it out, but it was pretty clear to us early in the bike leg that this was going to be a real challenge for her. We did what we could by taking all her weight out of the bag, and towing where possible. However, the amount of stops and slow-downs was increasing, and it would have been easy to get frustrated, but we knew this was going to be more of a ‘fun’ race, and the goal was to get Marlene to the finish line with a big smile on her face, so we had to push hard enough to get it done without breaking her!

However, all that is part of the sport. It’s always great to bring someone new into the sport and see them excited at the finish line, talking about how great it was, and that they really want to do more races. That means “job well done” as a team in my books, and that’s exactly what we pulled off. We had a few navigational errors on the bike, but from what we heard of other teams, that was par for the course here. In the end, we were pretty surprised to learn we hadn’t really lost any positions. Alex had a good head on his shoulders in the navigation department here. Anytime we went a little off, or were uncertain of the trail we had chosen, he was able to clearly rationalize his strategy, and ultimately, it meant we didn’t have any ‘catastrophic’ errors like other teams. We heard of teams making 1.5+ hour mistakes. The most we lost on any error was 20 minutes. Upon review of the whole race, we figured we’d lost about an hour total in navigation issues, which isn’t too bad in this kind of race.

Towards the end of the long pedal, the rain starting pouring for a bit, and Marlene was really having a tough time. However, we had now made our way to gravel roads, where towing was a bit easier. So, we decided to make the “Raid Pulse Train”, a tow-line with all three of us. I was hooked up to Alex, and Marlene was hooked up to me. It made us able to push hard, and let Marlene just coast behind us, towing her to the finish. She is asthmatic, and was having a hard time breathing, but didn’t want to stop to get her inhaler, as we were a mere 5k or so from the finish. What a trooper! Also, there had been 2 other teams trading leads with us over the past while, and we had finally made it to the front of them both, and really didn’t want to lose our position in the dying moments of the race. I know it was a real challenge at this point, but Marlene’s awesome attitude and resolve paid off, and we pulled in to the finish are side by side to cross the line. Sadly, there was no fanfare, as racers were still straggled our all across the course, within only about 12 teams having gotten in before us.

Marlene pretty much collapsed by that point, but was really happy in spite of it all. We re-grouped a bit, and headed in to the mess tent to grab our closing meal. My appetite was waning, but I was still able to wolf down a delicious cheeseburger and a pop before biking back to the cottage to clean up. Normally, there’d be a big ceremony, but due to the trauma of the course, teams were out a lot longer, and Geoff had to send out people to retrieve teams from various places. All that meant that there was no real possibility of having a proper closing ceremony. That was okay by us. We just gathered all our gear and headed back to the cottage to enjoy drinks there while sorting gear and chatting about our experience along with everyone else in the cottage. It was a pretty early night, but ended up just the way I’d want it to.

So there you have it. My official race story from racing as Team at the 2009 FAC Champs. Great race, great team-mates, and overall great experience. It made me once again realize why I love adventure racing so much. There are no other comparable race experiences. Why? Because it truly is an EXPERIENCE, not just a race! Couple weeks off now, then an off-road trail running race, and finally a marathon in Hamilton on Halloween weekend, and I’ll be done for the season. Till then… stay Active!

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