Fall Classic Delivers the Thrills!

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Well, hello again all my friends! I’m back with yet another fun race story to share with you all. This is one of my staple races that I like to do every year, the Frontier Adventure racing Fall Classic, a 12-14 hour adventure race. It’s just one of those races that is always a good time, and is a fitting close to my summer racing season, meaning that at the end of the race, I can enjoy a few beers :-). I had registered for this race quite some time ago, but even a week before the race, I was team-less. However, that wouldn’t prove to be any problem. Read on for the whole tale of why, and don’t forget to check out my pictures from the race. You can also check out a whole pile of other pictures here.

So just why wasn’t it a problem that I had no team? Well, in a nutshell, it was because I could do the race solo, and decided to do so. However, although I was registered as a solo, I would NOT be alone. Hunh? How does that work? Well, another thing about this race is that I have a habit of racing it with at least one complete newbie to the sport. I’m not sure why, but it always seems to work out that way. And this year, that newbie was none offer than Deanna! Yup, she wanted to tackle the race, and was registered as a solo. I decided that I would take the opportunity to race it with her, and maybe ‘coach’ her through her first race. Also seemed like that might be a good test for our relationship!

Of course, half of the challenge of these races is just getting to the start line. That axiom proved true, as a combination of factors on both our parts led us to both be late getting on site, Deanna even more so than me. What that meant is that I basically ended up plotting the checkpoints and the route on my own, and poor Deanna only had time to copy them to her map. Not a great start, as I had hoped she would have the experience of planning her race. However, getting gear sorted and getting some sleep were deemed more important. We were set to get up shortly after 4am, and hit the hay around midnight.

No sooner had we really gotten into the deep sleep that the alarm seemed to go off. We both stumbled around eating our oatmeal, and getting ourselves geared up for the day, which included getting the bikes and the gear bag out to TA1 before race start. In the pouring rain. And dark. And cold. Yup, a perfect start to a long day of racing. Deanna took it all in stride, which was quite encouraging. We got that stuff done, and were at the start line with time to spare. Ahead of us lay the following challenges. First, a nice trek to separate the teams. Then, hopping on the bikes for a significant ride that would likely take 5-6hrs for us, then, we were supposed to go for another long trek, and finally transition to our kayaks (since we were solo) and paddle the 15km to the finish line.

With great energy and excitement (not), Geoff announced the start of the race, and nearly 100 teams got underway, a long string of headlamps all heading down the same trail to start. That ended at the road, at which point the first bushwhack was to happen. My plan was to get Deanna to do all the navs, with me only offering advice here and there. However, due to the distinct lack of coffee, it would appear she would need some heavy prompting to get going, as she appeared to have forgotten how to even use her compass right away. We laughed it off, and eventually got ourselves going in the general direction of CP1.

I’d love to tell you all it was a wild adventure and have a crazy story for you here, but you know what? We nailed both CP1, CP2, and even getting to TA1. We took our time, consulting on the decisions, and rationalizing our choices, and it paid off (well, that and staying very close to our bearings). The result? We made it onto the bike course with a respectable time, and even ran into Pete Dobos there. He didn’t look too happy to see us there, given Deanna’s lack of experience. It was priceless. At that point, we had no idea how his race was actually unfolding…

We took our time getting organized here, as I cautioned Deanna that we’d be on the bikes for quite a long stretch, and there were very few checkpoints. As a result, we needed enough food, clothes, and liquids to last us up to 6 hours in the varying weather conditions. The trails were complete unknowns, and given the amount of rain they’d been getting in these parts, combined with Deanna’s loathing of mud had me a little concerned.

Once we were convinced we could make it all the way to the next transition point, we mounted out bikes and pedaled off. IN THE WRONG DIRECTION! Ha ha ha. My fault totally. Luckily, we only went about a kilometer or less before realizing it and doubling back, but it was not a pretty start to this leg. After that, we were underway in earnest, turning the cranks and chatting and laughing as we went. Eventually, the conversation started lagging a bit, and I could tell Deanna needed a bit of encouragement. My solution? Sing silly made-up songs of course 🙂 I also took the opportunity to get her to test out a tow system, so she could get a sense of how they work. However, like a real trooper, she didn’t want to use it much, as she was a solo racer. Great attitude! But it was still worth explaining about the power of the team and the fact that everyone has weak moments, and that’s when your team-mates step forward and help (without asking). As a result, I told her to give me her pack, and rode with both packs for a chunk of the course. It just made sense.

So, how about the navs and the riding? Well, both were somewhat challenging. There were a myriad of criss-crossing ATV trails throughout the bike leg, and even washed out bridges. That meant having to keep a keen eye on both the map and the odometer. However, the problem was that my odo had stopped working due to the moisture and the mud. Mud? Hells yeah, There was no shortage of it on the course. At one point, we mused about the fact that we should take some and sell it as high-end Muskoka mud therapy to yuppies. However, once Deanna fell into the stuff for the third of forth time, she no longer saw the therapeutic benefits that it may possess, and simply wanted to get out of it.

Unfortunately, it was a long slog, and nearing the end of the bike, a lot of people had suffered. There were lots of bikes with no brakes (I later found out I had burned my pads to bare metal myself!). There were lots of shifter issues, and chain suck too. Then there was the determined fellow who was riding along on a completely flat tire, due to a bead separation and 3 tube changes. At one point, he cheerily informed me that it actually rode quite well on a flat. I just took his word for it.

The last section of the bike was along the power lines, and popped us out on a road that we’d follow to TA2, Well, at least that’s what happened for teams not doing the ‘advanced course’. We were not one of those teams. Also, we realized that we were cutting it close to make it onto the next leg. We had to get to the TA by 13h00, and we rolled in at 12h45. That was when we had to make a critical decision. The next trek leg was quite long, probably 8km, much of it straight bushwhacking, which can take a very long time. Unfortunately, the next cut-off was at 15h00, giving us a mere two hours and a bit to get it done. At that point, if we missed the cut-off, we’d DNF and be shuttled to the finish.

The alternative was to bike along the roads to the TA, so that we could paddle. We opted for this for a couple reasons. First, we really wanted to finish the race (especially in light of our last race!), and that gave us the best chances to do so. Second, it was Deanna’s first race, so we didn’t want to push too hard. Also, we both really wanted to do the kayak, as we’d both been looking forward to it. To us, it was still going to give us the full experience of an adventure race, since we’d done a trek / bushwhack, a long bike with lots of challenges, and then cap it off with a long paddle. All the elements that make up a good race. There would always be future races to push harder and do more, right? It was clearly the right call, especially once we learned from Geoff that the top teams were taking 1hr45mins or so to get through it!

So back on our bikes we went, getting tired, but still in good spirits and looking forward to the next leg. When we finally did close in on the TA3 for the boats, who should we run into again, but Pete! It was rather odd. He was not in the best spirits, as he was not having what he would consider an ideal race. However, we had just the thing for him. We’d had the fore-sight to actually pack a tetra-pack of wine in our transition bag. So, we cracked it open and passed it around to all those around the transition.

Due to our short-course decision, we now had a bit of time gained, so once again took the time to properly prepare for the long paddle. I even put on a dry top and used a skirt. After all, this paddle was on paper quite straightforward. No portages, no whitewater, no rocks, just a bit of navigation around some islands. Deanna got all ready too, rocking her new gloves, and keen to try out her rental kayak. Boy, if only we’d known how badly that would go at the TA…..

So, what was the problem? How about a kayak that would do nothing except go right and left for Deanna. As hard as she tried she just could not get it to track straight, which was quite frustrating for her (and yes, a bit for me too). After a while of suffering like that, we rigged up a tow line from my boat to hers, hoping that if I just paddled hard, it would sort of pull her boat straight as she paddled. No dice. Instead she only succeeded in creating drag for me, and still going side to side. At this point, we were making quite a spectacle for other teams calmly paddling by in their canoes. We definitely did not look professional here 🙂

We finally had enough, and I suggested we pull over to a dock for me to try out the boat. I convinced her to just get in my boat while I ‘tested’ it. In reality, I had no intention of letting her paddle it again. I guess my experience of paddling many more boats in different situations paid off, as I was able to break her in and convince her to track straight for me. So, we were finally off at our nice pace. It was quite peaceful out there, and luckily, the rain was pretty much done, which meant we didn’t get too cold. In fact, we even took off our hats to cool off a bit.

The paddle was pretty decent, but the day was starting to wear on Deanna a bit. She was definitely feeling it, but had the right attitude. When asked, she’d just say, “Well, I know there’s nothing else to do but paddle, so that’s what I’m doing”. That’s as simple as it gets sometimes in a race. You grit your teeth, and you DO it. No time for whining or over-analyzing. Paddling gets you to the finish. That’s for sure.

There were some interesting cross-waves as we crossed some open stretches of water, but we both dealt with them well. I credit the overly challenging water conditions we faced in a canoe a few weeks back in Prince Edward County. That day, the waves were also cross-waves, but much bigger, so today was a walk in the park so to speak. Others were not so lucky on that front, with some teams bailing in their boats and needing a rescue. (Is this where I mention Pete again? For his full story, you *really* should read his race report in 2 parts).

Luckily, no such thing would be needed for us. We just paddled, and paddled, and paddled. We finally rounded a bend and I realized it was the final stretch of paddle. Still a few km, but a straight run up the shore. We started musing a bit about the whole day, and what a great experience it was, even more so because we did it together. Deanna was very kind and thankful that I’d raced with her, and I was just really happy to be with her and seeing her succeed. It definitely was making up for the dreaded double DNF we suffered at Logs Rocks and Steel.

There was no real fanfare when we finally reached the virtual finish line, but to us, the feeling was still pretty awesome. A lot of people had been rooting for Deanna, and it was nice knowing that she would live up to their expectations. After all, she’s volunteered at so many of these races, that a lot of people know her. Not to mention her dad and uncle were also there helping out. I’m sure I wouldn’t have heard the end of it from them if she hadn’t finished! We finally pulled the kayaks up on the shore, and it was once and for all shower time! Yay!

Sadly, the cottage key was in my car, at the start line, located close, but not that close. I tried bushwhacking to get to it, and was met with several water crossings. D’oh! Once I got the keys and car and returned, I found out that our roomie had already let her in.

That’s pretty much the end of the race tale. As you may guess, the rest of the evening was pretty fun. For starters, the showers, dry clothes, food, and beer were tops. Then, there was the Jiffy Pop that I cooked up outside. Sadly the side blew out of it, and we ended up eating popcorn off the deck, but luckily, Deanna had learned earlier in the day just why racers are willing to eat off the ground :-). We finished the night off by heading to the bar to meet up with some other racers and volunteers, and stayed there till we were well and truly ready to crash.

The next day opened up sunny, so we got up, had breakfast, and took advantage of the weather to do some geocaching in the area. After all, fall in the Muskokas is truly beautiful. Sadly, it then came time to wrap up the weekend and for me to start the 5 hour drive back to Ottawa. All in all though, I had no complaints. I was, and remain, very proud of Deanna for sticking with the race the way she did, and fighting all the way to her first-place solo female finish (what? I didn’t mention that? Well now I did!). She is already contemplating her next race, but has also acknowledged that there may be some training required, which we will hopefully be able to do together with greater frequency in the near future!

Tip of the cap yet again to Geoff and all the crew who put on the race. Weather wasn’t perfect, but the course was crafted in a way that with the right decisions, pretty much everyone was able to finish it, and get a lot out of it. I know I did! Now onto a bit of resting for a few weeks (or not, future blog posts will tell the tale…). Take care all, and hope to see you out there somewhere.

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