Can’t Stop the Rush

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Team Smiling

It is my great pleasure to bring you another race report. This time, I’ll be covering my part in a 30-hour Adventure Race known as Wilderness Traverse. Yup, the very same race that I did last year. However, I’m sure this time the weather will be much better, right? Not so much, but you’ll have to read the whole thing to hear more about that. I had been planning on re-doing this race since last year’s DNF, but two weeks prior to the event, I still had no team lined up! Lucky for me, some last minute cancellations presented me with a couple options to explore, and I found myself on a great team to undertake the experience. Not to name drop or anything, but I would have two Mount Everest Summitters on my team in Adam and Laura, as well as a veteran racer who designs and builds map boards for navigation on mountain bikes! How cool is that? It was a pretty amazing race, and I can’t wait to share all the details with you all. Have a look at the various pictures that I took on course, as well as some from Deanna (who was volunteering), then come back and read the whole story!

My last-minute break came about mainly due to another race, Raid the North Extreme. This race was a 6-day event in BC a mere few weeks before, which left many racers injured or exhausted from the effort. As such, a few slots opened up on a few teams. I was about to email Adrenaline Rush, the team I raced with, but was actually contacted by them first! The timing was right, our goals were in line, so how could I turn down the invitation. Our plan was to race hard, and hopefully pull off a top-5 finish, which would be EXTREMELY difficult given the pedigree of the teams in attendance. Essentially, this was a who’s who of the adventure racing scene from Eastern Canada. All the hot shots would be there.

The style of the race was to be a back-to-basics wilderness adventure race. Long legs, with few checkpoints and few transitions. To wit, we were given advance notice of the course logistics. Open up with a 35+ km trek, transition to a 65+km mountain bike section, transition to a classic canoe / portage leg of 35+ km, and transition to wrap up with a 10+ km final trek on trails. Why the “+” everywhere? Well, all these sections allow for route choices, and of course the possibility that you’ll make wrong turns, which is all in the spirit of adventure racing. The bonus to having the course disciplines spelled out was that we could all prep our gear choices and food in advance. In fact, this was the most organized I’d ever been in a race, being almost fully packed 2 days prior to the race! That doesn’t mean I didn’t screw it up though, as you’ll learn. Food and key gear in a dry bag for each leg, and extra clothes in separate bags for each bin.

I took Friday off in order to arrive onsite early. We’d be camping the night before the race start, and I wanted to get everything set up and not be stressed about race prep. Also, Deanna was volunteering, and was helping with registration. I still hadn’t formally met up with my team, and was hoping to see them soon. At one point I walked outside, and Deanna was waving me over. I said “I’m not really looking for you, I’m looking to see if my team-mates have arrived”. To which she introduced me to Laura, one of my team-mates! That was around 5pm. It wasn’t till 7pm that the other two arrived. With registration wrapping up at 8pm, we were the 2nd last team to get through gear-check and paperwork. Whew! Just in time to receive our maps where we’d finally see the actual course.

As another change from last year, Bob provided us with maps that were pre-marked with the checkpoints and transition areas. All we had to do was work on the route choices and plotting the distances and any other info we wanted to. Adam and I worked together on this task. With 5 primary maps and 4 other maps to pore over, there was plenty to do. I worked on the bike leg marking distances and trails, while Adam sketched out rough trekking routes with bearings, as well as figuring out the best canoeing route. There was some challenge there, as we had a LOT of portages to figure out, and we had to choose routes that suited us best. We opted for as few portages as we could, while not adding too much distance in paddling and/or carrying boats. With that work all done, we all headed back out to finish packing our team gear into the 2 bins we’d be using for the race. After that, a fitful sleep of about 5 hours before getting up around 5am.

At 6am, we were in the firehall having our delicious pancake breakfast. This would be the last warm meal for the next 30hrs or so. We also had to make sure we were on buses by around 6:45am, as it was a remote start, and we had to be driven there. Tried cat-napping on bus, but it was no use. The 4 buses converged at the start area, and 40 teams poured out into the area, totaling about 150 racers, all full of nervous energy. Final words from Bob, and we were off at 8am promptly! The first 4k or so of the race was an ATV trail, which meant a lot of teams sprinting away fast. Laura had cautioned us that she’d start slow, in order to warm up. All in all, a good strategy, as sprinting out could lead to burn-out, and in a 6-12 hour trek, we knew we’d make up any lost time here by being fast and accurate in the bush. Sure enough, once we decided to bear off the trail and hit the bush head-on, we had a strong pace in the woods. True to Bob’s words, the trek encompassed a wide range of terrain, from ATV trails, to easy open bush, to swamps and floating bogs, as well as scrambling up some rocky pitches, and clamoring over heavy alders and deadfall. We felt at ease in all these different terrains, and with Adam’s spot-on navigation, made solid progress.

Of course, given the bushwhacking and route options, we had no idea where we stood in the rankings. However, shortly, we popped out on a trail that should lead us to CP1, a hunting camp. We arrived at the spot, but no staff were there. We’d been told if that was the case, just remember the name of the camp, and head off. We did one better by snapping a picture. We wasted no time second guessing, and were off again. Soon after, we were passed by a couple teams we’d assumed would be a bit ahead of us. Seemed our strong navs were keeping us in the game. Once again, we dove back into the bush, and now chipped away at the features we’d identified would take us to CP2, on the side of a lake. As we were getting there, we heard splashing, and noticed a team swimming in the lake. Not sure why they chose that, since it was fairly easy to go around it, but to each his own. We’d rather keep as dry as we could. Incidentally, the weather had been awesome so far. In fact, it was a bit too warm! We had a quick chat with the volunteers at CP2 and kept on going. Our speed seemed pretty solid, and we had a good feeling about the trek. Sadly, we had a bit of a mishap on the next trek from CP2 to CP3.

Along the way, we were climbing some rocks, and Laura had her weight on her thumb. She slipped and *POP* it slipped out of joint! Much pain ensued, but it went back into joint fairly easily. Unfortunately, she was basically down a hand and we had to do some wilderness first aid. By sheer dumb luck, another team was actually within shouting distance. I asked if there were any doctors, and THERE WAS! He popped over, gave it a quick assessment and confirmed that although it had dislocated, it was in place now, and had only ligament damage likely. As a result, we opted to do a splint. One stick, a wad of duct tape, and a tensor bandage later, and we were good to go! This was not Laura’s morning. She’d been feeling nauseous much of the trek too, so we’d taken all her weight out of the pack and were helping in any way we could, but now we were concerned how this might impact the next legs. However, I’ll say this: anyone who has summitted Mount Everest can roll with the punches. There was NO stopping her. Her focus was awesome, and she had no hesitation in pushing on hard, in spite of the pain. Very impressive, and a great attitude to have for adventure racing. In fact, I’d say we all felt a renewed sense of energy and pushed harder due to this. In short order, we were at CP3, and there we met up with Pete and Team Random. We asked the CP staff to radio ahead to the transition to see about getting a proper thumb splint, and with that, we were off again in the bush!

We basically cat and moused with Pete’s team for the next whole leg from CP3 to CP4/TA1. Towards the end, it seemed they were content to follow our footsteps all the way till we hit a trail. Once there, we let them go so that we could bandage up Laura’s foot, which was now also blistering! Poor Laura! As always though, tough as nails. Also great to see the dynamics of a brother/sister combo that are used to taking care of each other in extreme circumstances. Adam never once said anything, and always seemed to know just what to do. It also helped that Laura is vocal and knows when to say stop in order to deal with issues. The foot thing was dealt with super-quickly, with Adam removing her shoe and sock, taping it up, and getting us back ready to go. Awesome teamwork. We jogged out the last bit to CP4/TA1, and were impressed to learn we were team #6 to arrive! And that was just after Pete’s team, who we’d been with. Just shows what good navigation can accomplish in a long trek. We’d completed the 6-12hr trek in just over 6 hours! It was now time to switch into biking mode for the next 65+km. Not a problem, since we’d all packed bike shorts, etc to change into. Well, all except for me!!

Yup, turns out I’d packed the wrong clothes bag in each bin. Luckily, I still had my helmet, shoes, lights, etc., just not the actual clothing. That meant I’d be biking with the same underwear on, and could only change into another pair of tights. Plus, it meant I’d have to pack my paddling clothes into my backpack to carry with me the entire bike leg, just to make sure it was with me. Ugh! Oh well, only option was to suck it up and go. A little banter with the TA staff, a little nudity while we got changed, some eating and drinking, and we hopped on our saddles. The medic on site didn’t actually have any thumb splints, so Laura opted to leave all as was, and just push on. Gear shifts would be tricky, as it was her right hand, and she’d have to shift with either her palm or fingertips. This would inevitably lead to some challenges, but we were up for it. Between us, we had bike tows on 3 of 4 bikes, and had lots of food and horsepower to burn up. Once again with strong navigation, I had no concerns for our chances.

As to the terrain of the bike section. Well, it was a mixed bag, but generally, I’ll sum up the next 65k as follows. Opening section was absolutely horrendous. Bus-swallowing mud pits interspersed with lakes and un-rideable terrain in between. Initially, we thought we’d get out by around 7pm if we did well. Suddenly, midnight looked more likely, as we were walking more than biking. However, that eventually switched to good solid double track, and we were able to actually bike smoothly. Between Mark and Adam towing Laura when they could, and taking all the right trails, we now were back to thinking we’d be done by around 8pm. We picked up CPs 5 and 6 with no great issue, and these were both unmanned CPs along the trails. CP7 was actually a total treat, as it was on the end of a lake and popped us onto paved road. PLUS, it was manned by Deanna, so I got a kiss on the racecourse! And more importantly, got to slap on some Vaseline to treat the beginnings bad chafing arising from not having been able to get bike clothes on. Spirits buoyed, we headed back out onto the pavement, which soon turned back into dirt trails. Thus far, the navs had been going really smoothly, and looked like they would the whole race. On the trek, I’d been keeping time between waypoints so that we would never go too far without being sure we’d chosen the right path. On the bike, I was calling out distances between points, again, to make sure we’d never overshoot. I also kept in close contact with Adam about what we were doing, sort of as a back-up. I’d like to think that this communication kept our team on a perfect course most of the time.

Although navs were still going smoothly, the final section of the bike, from CP7 to CP8/TA2 was back to a hell zone. By now, we’d been passed by several teams, and we were feeling a little bad about the now slow progress. To make matters worse, it started raining, and got progressively heavier and heavier. So much for the dry racecourse. It was now full-on can’t see beyond 10m heavy rain. Oh, and did I mention it also went dark now? We had to pull out our bright lights to keep going, and things just got more and more miserable. We were all looking forward to a few things. Firstly, getting off the bikes. Then, getting some food and drink from our bin. Then, changing into dry clothes again. And finally, we looked forward to getting in the boats and paddling 🙂 After all, we’d be doing that for pretty much all night. That’s where things would get interesting.

We finally arrived at the transition to some cheers and warm greetings. What a relief. We each set about our own little routines. I got changed, and got some boiling water to make some Mr. Noodles. I also carefully pulled out and checked that I had all the gear I’d need for the overnight paddle, including warm clothes. Unfortunately, I had no rain pants, so I was a tad worried about getting cold. However, I had a neoprene cap on, and a Gore-tex jacket, and also had a space blanket if I really needed it. All told, we probably spent over 20 minutes in transition. Not blazing fast, but not too long. In fact, what impressed me was that even though we were doing our own things, we were all ready at the same time, with Mark having prepped our boats for the paddle. We said farewell, and slowly slipped into the inky blackness of the night. With the rain, and temperature change, conditions couldn’t be much worse. It was pitch black, and there was fog coming off the water, making it nearly impossible to see ANY features around us. Adam was going to have to navigate this paddle by near dead reckoning! Good thing I now had 100% faith in him. I’d follow him anywhere he told us to go. He’s that good.

How can I summarize a paddle that takes you all night and is mainly in the rain? Well, for starters, you might think, “well, at least the terrain is predictable”. Wrong. Remember the word portage? We had lots, and they all had varied terrain that we’d have to hike on. Once again, Mark and Adam proved themselves as supermen. Our routine was this. Paddle to the portage. Everyone out, all gear out. Mark and Adam pop the boats on their heads and hike out. I grab the packs and Mark and I’s paddles, and Laura takes the last 2 paddles, and off we go. I haven’t said much about Mark, but he’s an animal. He’s very strong, loves doing this stuff, and can just keep going. So what was my role here? Well, I’d say my job was to be pretty much the independent guy. Never needed help, and did what I could when I could, like carrying an extra bottle on the trek, making sure we stayed close as a group, etc. etc. I simply didn’t have the size and power of Mark and Adam, so the idea of me doing any towing made no sense. It would just wear me out. I don’t think that made our team and weaker, it made us smart. We knew intuitively what we had to do in order to move in the most efficient way, and we did it.

But back to the paddle. Once again, we made pretty intelligent route choices, and it showed in our position. Basically, from the moment we finished the bike to crossing the finish line, I don’t think we changed positions at all. We saw lots of other teams on the water, but they were all at different points in their races. We had one challenging portage early on where we had to more or less bushwhack to a river (couldn’t seem to find the official trail), but apart from that, clear sailing. On the water, we were all staying warm, but I found that every time we got out of the boats for a portage, I’d get really cold. The other thing is that we’d now been racing all day and all night. We were getting sleepy. I think all 3 of them popped caffeine pills. I was offered some, but declined. I’m usually good up to about 40hrs. Sleepy, but not falling asleep. It was fun listening to Laura and Adam in one boat singing, shouting and talking to stay awake. At one point, I think they spent nearly 20 minutes reciting the Abbott and Costello classic ‘Who’s on First’. Both of them! Too funny. Mark and I were more quiet, but did a fair bit of chatting about everything under the sun. Eventually, Mark really wanted a nap, so he ended up taking a 10minute power nap while I kept up the paddling to stay with Adam. I think Laura was also taking cat-naps at the time. Can you blame us?

My only real concern came near the end of the paddle. We seemed to have slowed quite a bit, and seemed to stop a lot more. It was still quite dark, and I wasn’t sure Adam was still 100% certain where we were. However, I should NOT have doubted him. Once, again, out of the total darkness, we took a left, and cruised straight into a little opening into a bay which was ultimately going to take us to the put out on Raven Lake. Amazing! I wouldn’t have blamed him if he’d been a little uncertain, but truth is, he was just being very methodical, and making sure he identified exactly where we should go. My spirits once again lifted. In another 20 minutes, we were pulling out of the water for the final 400m portage to the transition area. As a bonus, it was now getting light again. All that remained was the final 10-12km trek to the finish.

Now you know the drill. Change clothes, stuff in some food, check out, and move on. We had somehow convinced ourselves this was only like an 8km trek, and assumed we’d be done in an hour and a half. TA staff told us it would be closer to 2.5 hours. We hoped not, and set out in the hopes of wrapping up before 8am, thus breaking the 24hr mark. However, experience should have told me to trust them. Even though we ran most of the flats and downhills, there was a lot of climbing that we had to walk (after all, this was called the 5 viewpoints trails, each one starting low and finishing high!). The final two CPs were a piece of cake to grab, it was just a matter of the slog along the trails. Laura was starting to have a concern about pulling her groin, and couldn’t run up hills. For my part, I was now walking like a duck, and had earned the nickname ‘Quack’. This was due to my very uncomfortable chafing issues. All along however, we stayed in good spirits and laughed and talked most of the way to the finish. When we finally crested the final hill and saw the finish area, we mustered up all our energy for a final ‘run’, which was more of an easy jog. Happily, the race director Bob Miller was at the finish to greet us, with medals awaiting us (and delicious chocolate milk!). Deanna was also on hand to see us in and cheer for us. It was the end to a technically near-flawless race, characterized by a fantastic course and molded by our team’s overall determination to see it through to the end as strongly as we could.

We learned that we were 12th overall, and had captured 10th in the Elite Co-Ed Category. Not to shabby considering there were 40 teams, and lots of tough competition. 9 teams ended up withdrawing from the course, and a further 10 teams finished, but on various modified, shortened courses. Our result was certainly nothing to be embarrassed about! We milled around for a bit, but shortly after that, I cleaned up and headed to the tent to try and grab a bit of sleep. I ended up getting around 3.5 hrs sleep before the head woke me up in the tent. Deanna had left me a Tim’s breakfast sandwich to eat, and some water. What a gal! I got up, and started the gruesome task of sorting stinky gear from our [returned] bins, and loaded the car back up. Awards took place in the mid afternoon, and we were soon all heading our separate ways again. It was a whirlwind race and weekend, but I’ll always have fond memories of it. Adrenaline Rush was a great team to race with and I hope they had as much fun racing with me as I with them! I’d be honored to race with them again someday :-). Now, time to rest up a bit, as I have an iron-distance triathlon to race in less than 2 weeks! Hope you enjoyed the story!

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