Summer AR Season Wrap-Up

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Alrighty folks, two weeks has passed since the 2006 Salomon Adventure Challenge Canadian Champs at Bark Lake, and it’s high time that I write up my race report. No excuses anymore. Well, that and the fact that if I’m not careful, I’ll forget all the gory details, then what’ll you do? Also, with our trip to Argentina looming in about a week, I know that I’ll have bigger fish to fry in the ole blogosphere. Although I try to keep things on track when I write these posts, I usually get too excited, and ramble on, so please forgive me in advance, since this was a very interesting race, with lots of roadblocks to overcome. Have I whet your appetite yet? Well let me start off by saying that there is a saying in the adventure racing community, and that is that getting to the start line is the biggest challenge. Well, read on, and learn how this is so true. Wanna see pics of the race? Check out my folder on flickr. Most of those pics were taken on the race course with a disposable camera.

My story starts at 10:30am on Thursday morning. Just a little over 24 hours before I was slated to drive the 4 hours to the start line of this race. I was in my cubicle at work when the phone rang. It was Jim. He asked me if I was sitting down. I immediately started saying, “No, no, no, oh no you don’t. Not at the last second!” My guess was on the money. Jim unfortunately had to back out of the race at the very last second. While I would say I handled this very well in the short term, I’ll admit that I was disappointed. I’d been looking forward to doing this race with Jim and Steeve for the last couple months, and having that little wrench thrown into the works really messed me up! The new challenge now was where the hell was I going to find a new team-mate 24 hours from the start? These kind of races aren’t really something that you can just drop everything and do. Not only that, but the majority of the people I know that would be interested in this race would either already be registered in the race, or not be able to race due to prior commitments.

So now what? Well, desperation. I immediately set about emailing everyone I knew, and getting them to email everyone they knew to see if we could drum up a team-mate. We had a few bites in pretty short order, and I put a deadline of 2pm to get commitment from someone. I just didn’t have the time to deal with it past that time as a result of my other work commitments. Steeve had a few feelers out as well. By lunchtime, it looked like we had a couple solid options. In the end, we decided to go with Marco Durepos, a friend of Jim’s. The catch? Well, he’d never raced before. Sure he had a bike, and shoes and all that sort of thing, but no real race experience. The thing is, I knew Marco. I didn’t know either of the other two ‘options’ we had. After last year’s experience with a last-minute team addition, I decided that “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”. I knew that psychologically, I would have an easier time racing with Marco. Read: I knew that if something went wrong (which as Murphy’s AR Law states, it usually does), Marco would probably roll with it. The other great thing was that Marco was able to get Friday afternoon off, so we could head down early as we had hoped to do. Plus, Jim was footing Marco’s bill, and providing him with a bunch of his own gear, so I knew that I wouldn’t have to fret too much over logistics late that night!

On with the tale. Fast forward to Friday, we got all geared up, picked Marco up at Kanata, and headed off to Bark Lake. Where is that you as? Well, not too far west of Bancroft, so just south of Algonquin park in muskoka-type cottage country. The ride up was spectacular. Fall colors were in full effect, and we had a good time as a team, bonding a bit and talking up what our goals and strategy were. As a result of the last minute changes, the tone of the race was different for me. No longer was I revved up to go for a podium finish, but rather to race hard, and race clean. Meaning no mistakes. Get the best time that we could with the least mistakes, and let the chips fall where they may. We got to Bark Lake, went through our registration, and set about getting our gear ready and stuffing some food in our bellies.

The map distribution was at 8:00pm that night. Race briefing 8:30-9:30pm. Gear handed in for transitions by 11:00pm. The catch with all this? Well as soon as I got the maps and instructions, I realized that it was a remote start! Meaning we’d have to get up early to be on a bus by 2:30am in order to make the actual start line by 4am. Crap, kiss a good bit of rest goodbye. By the time everything would be sorted out, and maps ready, I’d be lucky to get 3 hours sleep. In the end, I think I got about 2.5 hours. Better than nothing, but hard when you have to push for the next 14 hours. This is where the revenge of ‘the hardest part is getting to the starting line’ kicks in again.

At 2:30am, our team clambers on bus number 1. There was supposed to be 3 busses. The other two don’t show. At all. We got a number of stories on that. The driver said that they just didn’t show up at the rendezvous, but they’re on their way. Then we’re told that they hadn’t actually confirmed the other buses. Then we hear they had the dates wrong. Finally, we’re told that they woke up the dispatcher, who woke up the drivers to get them to show up. But when we talked to the other drivers, they said they were just returning from another run! Who knows the truth. The result was that we were sent back to try and sleep for another 1.5 hours. Tough to do when you just got all psyched for a race, and ate again! The second time getting out of bed was BRUTAL! I lost all my drive, and the thought was shared by lots of racers. By the time we finally got to the start line, the gun went off at 6:40am, 2 hours and 40 minutes late. That also meant that the night navigation section really turned into more of a daylight section, making it easier for the majority. Too bad. I’d been hoping for a good night nav leg to put us ahead. Such is life, and such was the start of the race.

The first section of the race was all on foot. Trekking / running / bushwhacking / swamping etc. We headed out at a good clip, along with everyone else (there were 48 teams of 3). Everyone was pretty tight. We came to one fork in the trail we were on where everyone kept going, and opted to take it. Shortly after, seems that most people turned around an joined us. So much for striking out on our own. Then, we hit a lake area where CP1 was slated. We didn’t find it immediately, and decided to circle north, agreeing that was the logical place given the co-ordinates given. In that area, we ran into team SRS, the top team on the Canadian circuit. They hadn’t found CP1 there, so we decided to go back on our original course. We ended up hitting CP1 in 42nd place! Shit. SRS hit it at 40th, so that gave me hope. At least it obviously wasn’t like I screwed up bad, we were only slightly behind the crowd. Of course, the difference is that SRS would eventually go on to pass EVERYONE, and come in 1st by 20 minutes, whereas we were in more of a chase mode the rest of the race :-(.

After CP1, it was a great bushwhack along swamps and Canadian Shield. It was beautiful. Of course, we didn’t appreciate the numerous dead-ends at rocky outcroppings into water much, but we got around those, and eventually made our way to the CP2 / TA1 area, where we were set to hit the boats. We fought back to 36th place at that point (SRS had already moved up to 10th!), so nothing really gained or lost. We made a couple double-back choices, losing a couple hundred meters each time. Without those, we probably would’ve gained a few spots, but overall, I think my nav was pretty accurate. Now, a quick change, and on to the boats.

And what nice boats these were…not! The tricky part about this section was the fact that even though it was only about a 25-30km paddle, we were 3 to a canoe, and there were 9 portages, 4 of which were about a km in length. Doesn’t sound like that much, but believe me, it was a pain. On the plus side, I was looking forward to them. As the team’s smallest, I was stuck in the middle of the boat. No seat, no foam, no support. Just kneeling in the brine, trying to paddle my kayak blade over the widest part of the boat. The lack of circulation was just marvelous! The portages gave me a chance to at least feel my legs again! In the portages, we came up with a little system. Steeve and Marco would throw out all the gear (race packs, paddles), then throw the boat over their heads for a 2-person portage. I’d follow up the rear as the sherpa, carrying the crap, then throw it back in the boat, and we’d head off. In this way, we were pretty quick on the portages, and a managed to force passing a few teams this way. Probably 4 or 5.

At the start we were having a tough time paddling straight. Of course, we’d never gotten into a boat at all as a 3-some, and this posed some challenges. None of us are particularly stellar paddlers, but at least when it’s just Steeve and I in a boat, we’d gotten pretty adept at moving straight and in synch. Add a 3rd, weigh the boat down, and it’s a true test of team dynamics. I’ll say this, we had good dynamics. No bickering really. Normally, the paddle is a time to joke and sing, but with this test, we found we really had to concentrate. Steeve kept telling us to focus the whole way. I found this funny, coming from him 😉 Like all AR legs, this one has a side story, which I’ll share now.

On one of the portages, from Cox Lake ironincally, to Gold Lake, I left the paddles in the boat (short portage). Mine was somehow wedged a certain way between the seats so that one blade was sticking a little out of the top of the boat. Well, the gents decied to carry the boat on their shoulders, with the top up high (as opposed to flipped over their heads). They started hiking, and encountered resistance. And what a mighty resistance it was. “What’s the problem guys? Where’s the branch?” I asked from further up. They were grumbling, and heaved with all their might. A loud splintering sound shattered the air. Definitely sounded like a big branch. They set the boat down and Steeve said “Oh shit, we broke a paddle.” Marco and I were sure he was kidding. He wasn’t. It was mine. The sound we heard was the delicate destruction of carbon fiber! Yup, my $400 light as a feather ultimate paddle (which I’d thankfully bought used) was now a fairly useless single sided canoe blade. Not a happy moment for me. But as the Captain and lead navigator, I’m proud to say I sucked it up pretty much right away. You see, I’m a pragmatist in races. I couldn’t do anything to fix it, so we had to go on. On the plus side, it essentially gave me a ‘get out of paddling’ card, since everytime I tried to pitch in, it made us veer to the right. Instead, I focussed on the navs, and getting ready for the next leg. When we exited the water at CP4 / TA2, we somehow dropped to 37th (SRS was 3rd now!) I think the last leg cost us some spots due to the paddle incident. Oh well. CP3 had been along the paddle, at a portage. We were now getting set for our bike leg.

At the TA, we were in pretty good spirits, bad luck aside. Oh, did I mention that it had gotten really choppy on the water, with high winds, and rain? No? Well, it did. We were now getting changed into some dry duds to head out on the final section of the regular race, the bike leg! There was an advanced section towards the end, consisting of trekking, but I was acutely aware that at our pace, we were unlikely to make that. I was right. That’s ok by me though. We each grabbed a quick bite, mainly consisting of Boost, hit the road. The first section was a lovely road section, just a few hills and turns. This gave us a chance to pump up our morale by actually moving quickly and warming up. Of course, I knew that wouldn’t last, since most of the bike would be on snowmobile trails, which have a real way of messing people up. More on that…

We got to the start of the trail portion (which is 80% of the bike leg here), and were greeted with some amazing sights. Trees! Everywhere! Not the way you’re thinking, but all over the trail. You see, not long ago, this area had been hit by tornadoes. Yeah, you heard right, tornadoes! This was my first time witnessing the destruction they can lay down. It’s very eerie, because they literally cut a swath, then they’re gone. So picture the first part of this ‘trail’ where we actually had to climb and crawl over, under, and around trees. I’m talking 4-5 deep at a time. Not trivial when you’re lugging a big metal machine over your shoulder. It was very disheartening, and we feared this would be the sign of the entire bike leg. Luckily, after a km or 2, we got onto trails again, and didn’t have to go through anything like that again. Of course at this point, the rain decided to pick up. Mudfest time! Again, you do enough races, none of this stuff bothers you. It’s sadistically fun to see how wet and muddy you can get. We scored high on both counts. I even managed a couple spectacular crashes. For one of them, I was going full-bore down a hill into a puddle. Sadly, I couldn’t see the big rock hiding. By bike hit it, and I went ass over tea-kettle into the drink on my head. My bike was 180 degrees the wrong way, and I felt it too! All was ok though, and we plodded on.

The bike leg got to be one of those ordeals where I was feeling we had to stop more than I wanted to to rest and such. We’d been harassing each other the whoe way to make sure we all drank and lots, but I think we came up short in that department a bit during this leg. On the plus side, each time we’d pause, I took a good look at the maps, and verified our course and where we were. The result of this, I so modestly report here, was a near-flawless navigation through the tricky trails. This played well in the future, read on to learn why.

We finally got ‘out of the woods’ literally, and hit CP 6 (again, CP 5 was on the way in the woods, which we hit dead on). This was the last CP before the final push to the finish. By this point, we’d risen to 34th place. There were a couple choices here. First, if you were doing the advanced, you’d state your intention to do so, then do one way. Next option was to look for a trail, which followed the road on the side supposedly, and pop out close to the finish line. This was the shortest route. The third option was just following the back roads back. Easy route, but probably 15-20% further. Initially, I’d thought we’d do the trail. At the CP, I pumped up the guys and thought we were good to go, since Marco and Steeve both said okay. I turned to bike away, and realized soon I was alone. Oops. I think Marco needed an extra breather. I turned and headed up the hill back to the CP where they were. As I crested, I had the incredibly stupid idea to try and pop a wheelie. I never succeed at that. I did this time. Painfully. I went straight back, flipped, landing hard on my upper thigh, ripping my jacket and cutting my arm. Damn it! My own fault. I jumped right back up, pretending all was well (my ego was more bruised than anything). We regrouped, and finally headed off. We turned off to go to the trail. Not far down the access road, I started second guessing this choice. Marco was hurting.

Here comes my best call of the day. Due to the delay in race start, darkness would hit us on this leg for sure. Problem was, we didn’t have proper bike lights, since this was supposed to be done during the daylight hours. With Marco fading, and the risk of being in the woods on a trail in the looming darkness, I decided we should back-track and take the road to the finish. We started heading out, and shortly thereafter, the mighty Marco bonked! It was heartbreaking. He had nothing in the tank. He was dizzy, and couldn’t even walk! I swung into damage control mode, giving him all the food he could eat. He accepted a gel flask, and basically chugged it (that’s about 3 hours of food energy normally!). He washed that down with a lot of water. Now I was worried. We set back out again, but only walking. My calculations showed we wouldn’t even make the cut-off if we walked. I had to be pushy, but respectful of Marco’s state, and encourage him to try and ride a bit when he could. Then the gel kicked in.

Marco confided that he almost never gets to that state. I should hope not. He also said he never admits to being beat, so the fact that he stopped spoke volumes to his state of mind and body. I guess he just pushed too hard too long, in spite of us insisting he had to race at his pace, and not put it all out there. We’d even taken his pack for him early in the bike, to try and help him out, and make sure he didn’t kill himself. Such is racing, dear friends. Every race is a learning experience. Marco just learned a lesson. Don’t be a super-hero 😉 Now where was I? Oh yeah, the gel kicked in! Marco found another wind, and flew away from me. He was pumping now. The rain was falling, as was the darkness, and there he was, all alone up ahead while Steeve and I hung back. I had to push to keep up with him to the finish. On the final road, I told the boys in no uncertain terms that they had better not cross the finish line without me! In the end, we crossed the line as a strong team, smiles and hugs all around, with a time of about 12 hours 50 minutes. Over an hour to spare! We also got the shocking news that there was still something like 19 teams on the course We finished off in 30th place overall (due to some teams doing advanced, others not), and 13th place in our category. Turns out a lot of people got turned around on the bike leg. So in spite of our energy issues, the solid navigation once again proved to be pivotal. For you statistic junkies, you can check out the full results online. Racing smart is always better than racing hard when you’re a middle-packer. It was time for some well-deserved grub, and quite possibly beer. On to the wrap-up.

We headed straight to the dining hall to partake in what seemed like one of the best buffets I’d had in a long time. That seemed to be the general consensus from team #38, Hyper-Active. For those of you keeping up with the math, the time was now about 8pm, so it was certainly dark outside. This meant that for the remaining teams, it would be an uphill battle to get to the finish. We did all right. After chowing down, we scooted off to our room to grab both a beer and a shower. They were both fantastic. I decided to combine both activities into one. Marco let us know that he might not be up for a wild night of partying, like Steeve and I had been planning. As this was the season closer, we’d brought along our hawaiian shirts and will to party, in spite of having raced all day and barely sleeping the night before. There was also a band on-site to help the racers get in the mood.

After getting cleaned up, we walked back over to the race HQ for the awards ceremony. There was a ton of prizing, none of which we managed to scoop up. Oh well. We had as good a chance as any I guess. I did manage to get up several times to share stories with everyone. By the end, Geoff, the race director, would just assume that I’d want to get up and talk more. Hey, what can I say, I was just trying to interject a little fun into the gathering. I just want to be known as the guy who gives it all, but can still party hard! Spuds MacKenzie eat your heart out 🙂 During the awards, they asked several times for information any of us might have on certain teams. Several were still out in the dark, and there was some concern that they may have to deploy a search and rescue mission. I’ll save the drama at this point and just tell you all that they did eventually find everyone safely. Sadly, it meant that those teams would not officially finish the race.

Post-awards Steeve, Marco and I headed over to the cabin where SRS was staying, to talk turkey for a bit, and try to get the inside scoop on just how those machines can win every race they enter (well, almost, they didn’t win the AR World Champs in Sweden in August 😉 Another couple beer, and it was back to the so-called Hawaiian party. We had our shirts on, but it was quickly clear that things weren’t really going to be rocking. There were still quite a few people there, but no one seemed to be have the energy to keep up with Steeve and I! They were only going to serve beer till midnight, so Steeve and I had to use up our coupons pretty quick. At one point, I even got up with the band and sang for a while. I’ll leave the rest of the details to your imagination, since if you know me at all, you can probably imagine where this devolved to. Suffice it to say, we had a good time, and Steeve and I at one point were sporting the 1st place medals for a picture, and Steeve finagled a free shirt from one of the race organizers. Good times.

We finally hit the hay around 1am. The next day was basically an early breakfast, followed by a quick clean-up and pack-up, and then back on the road for the 3.5 hour drive home. The sleepiness was kicking my ass by the time I got home, but of course the most annoying part of the race still remained; the post-race gear bin clean-up. If you put this off, you’re only asking for trouble. So I did a thorough clean-up of what I could, did some work for a couple hours, and hit the hay. The rest is history. So there you have it. My story, once again far too long, but all out there now. Hope you enjoyed it 😉 Stay tuned for the next developments in my on-going saga.

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