What a weekend!, or should I just say, what a looong day!!!
To save reading - here is the link to my slide show, each has a blurb with it, so you do not need to read below (a long read, the slide show is quick):
Slideshow (requires Flash): http://osteo.smugmug.com/photos/swfpopup.mg?AlbumI...
Gallery Link (non Flash): http://osteo.smugmug.com/Off-Road-Adventures/Wilde...
The day unfolded great and the weather gods were cooperating, offering a rain free race which I think is a rarity in the Adventure Racing world! I've learned over the few longer races that I have now done that I am better off to eat my own breakfast than have what the organizers provide. It is not that the organizers do a poor job, but they are not the ones doing the cooking so having a breakfast made for 100 people is not nearly as properly satisfying as breakfast made for 1 or 2 and it may also not be what one is normally used to eating.
We were up at 5:15a as we had to be at the buses for 6:30a so, 2 bagels with cream cheese, yogurt, banana and juice later I was raring to go! (still more than I usually eat for breakfast)
We made it to the buses and our gear to the drop off no problem and the 15 min bus ride had us questioning our sanity for doing this, but excited none the less. Once we were off the bus, the mad dash to find a tree was crazy!
The race actually started 15min early, which I think never happens. We were told that it was a 2km run to the canoes, and waiting for us were a handful of light weight kevlar canoes and then a bunch of heavier 16' and 17' Royalite beasts. I am not sure where lite comes into play with Royalite as they are anything but. I would guess the Kevlar weighed 45lbs and the Royalite depending on length were anywhere from 55-65lbs. The rules state that you must be within 100m of your team mates at all times so once the canoes were in sight the lead teams would have their fastest runner drop their gear and sprint to a canoe, thereby getting a light weight one, a good plan. But by the time we got there, 3 canoes remained so the choice was made for us, one 16', one 17' and a kevlar with no yolk. I chose the 17' thinking that over water it would be faster due to length although heavier but the flip side where as the 16' would be a fair bit slower over water but a bit lighter… and the one without the yolk would be difficult to portage. In hindsight I should have taken the one without the yolk. I un-affectionately named our canoe 'The Whale'.
On the water we faired ok, we used the 2 kayak paddles up front and I steered and paddled with my large squared blade river canoe paddle as I have not learned to steer with a kayak paddle as yet. This difference + the weight of the canoe made a huge difference as we were not far behind the other teams once on the water, maybe 50m, but the distance crept up significantly over the next few hours.
We had paddled much of this section before in training but knowing the land/water makes no real difference in your speed over said water and only brings the trepidation as to what is coming in the portages. The first portage was 850m and honestly picking up that canoe almost killed me! I can carry my canoe 1km with little problems and have done that distance in 20min in this rough terrain before. But The Whale took it's toll on me within 50-75m and down it went, me almost with it. Aron and I had to carry it together and my shoulders are still screaming from the effort now.
All told the canoe leg was just what we were expecting, long and lots of beaver dams going up and over lots of them, and we came in from the canoe faster than what I was expecting at 6.5hrs (I figured 8hrs). The TA went quick, drop off the paddling gear, re-stock with food, and away we go - maybe 10min, beautiful. We were told that there were 2 teams behind us but were not too worried as we were confident in navigating and anything can happen.
The first Trek leg was another matter. I planned 8hrs as well and we were out there for almost 15hrs I think, this would catch up to me many hours later.
We were off and all was going well, we came to a fork in the trail at some point and went down the trail. At the bottom we crossed a bridge and I recall looking and mentioning that we paddled under this bridge a couple hours ago. We all agreed I also recall thinking to take a picture wondering if we would cross it again (little did I know!).
As I was Aron's assistant navigator my job was to just pay attention to the bearing we were always headed on and make sure he did not veer off course too much or to offer correction when necessary. So, about 45min later it occurred to me that the CP we were headed for was on the OTHER side of the river. Actually it was the same CP (CP2) we hit while paddling before that bridge we crossed. We looked at the map and it confirmed it. What was more noteworthy of that particular CP was that we knew the volunteer that was there, so it really did give us a goal.
From where we were it would take us 45min back to the bridge, then 60min or so to find the CP on the other side, or we bushwhack it as the crow flies and hit the hidden trail just above the CP. Distance on the map was a little over a km so easily do-able, BUT we would have to cross the water and as we paddled it we knew that there were no beaver dams in the area we would be crossing.
But this is Adventure Racing (AR) and you have to have the mindset from the very beginning that you cross and do whatever you have to, no questions. So, off we went. The bushwhack was fine, and that first crossing was horrible! In the middle of the channel you had to swim maybe 30' but both sides were had sharp drop offs and mud, mud and more mud, there was nothing graceful about it at all - crossing #1 done.. yuck! but that didn't bring you to shore, just a grassy landing, so more water and mud, then land!
Into the woods, up the hill, over and under, through the brush and trees, and eventually we hit CP4. We left there being told there were 3 teams behind us so we were still pleased. As we left one team came in so we picked it up to be out of sight. This next leg was a long one, and we collectively agreed to change Aron's originally planned route a bit as we were moving faster than originally planned and decided we could take some risks having the daylight with us, which made sense. All was good till we got surrounded by swamps and dusk started to settle. The maps we were using were over 10yrs old so swamps are now either bigger or smaller and lakes have changed. It took a little while to figure it all out and in turn we had to wade through more crappy swamp water to get back on track. Once we found the lake we wanted deciding which direction to go was a challenge, being dark and you could not see the far side of the lake to get an idea of where we were. We finally found CP5 and also learned that there were still 3 teams behind us! but one was injured :(
We took 3 min there, ate, attached glow sticks and were off into the dark! This next leg was our nightmare. We heard later from other teams that they purposely ran so that they would not have to do this section in the dark and from another team top ranked team that they found this leg extremely difficult to do it in the day, never mind the dark. It started off tough, I took the lead on this section leaving the CP and within 50m was already questioning the compass and what I was barely able to see as water. Aron took over and we were off soundly till we reached a crossing that we had come to about 2hrs ago! we all recognized the logs in the water and this added to my confusion, but both Christine and Aron were good with where we were so into the water we went. The big log was helpful and the water was only waist deep but at the very end of the log I saw a leach staring at me... I almost fell backwards. Those little buggers can swim, so I quickly sidestepped and got out of the water. (I really really don't like leaches)
Onwards we went again, up and over, down and around. We had a hard time finding CP6. We used a set of railway tracks as our landmark in which once we found the tracks we would stay in the woods and travel approx 50min to find an old trail to take us down towards CP6. When we got to the tracks we were unsure of which side of the trail we came out on, we had to travel north or south and now being dark could not see anything to get a landmark. 50/50 and we chose wrong, once we realized the error we could either go back or continue and follow a cottage road into the woods from the other direction. Theoretically faster than back tracking again.
We found the road (which was at the train trestle for the swim) and the trail that lead off it and into the woods we went. Navigation was not overly difficult but we had a really hard time finding CP 6 once we were in the area. We were wondering if someone had moved it, which can happen, so we hit the OK button on our SPOT (GPS tracker) and headed out of the woods to CP7 and the swim. That was around 3:30-4:00a and honestly I was hitting the wall, actually every wall imaginable. I was near out of food and had been ignoring my watch and eating every 40min for the past 4hrs as I knew I was running out. Christine's food was done and even her emergency rations were either eaten or had gotten wet from all the water crossings and Aron had a few morsels but they were also going fast. And I was tired. Sleepy Tired. My legs were crazy heavy, my L hip was screaming at me and in truth I was walking in a fog. Most of us have experienced the sensation of being tired behind the wheel driving, scared of drifting… well this was worse and I was walking. I was actually falling asleep as I was moving forward, walking in a dream. I could hear my voice in side my head as I would approach a rock… "step to the right… now… step to the left… a root… step…" this went on for a long while.
Aron offered to take my pack, but that would have made no difference, I was not physically tired in that sense, just fatigued. So, he offered me a caffeinated salt pill (30mg of caffeine). Most of you know I do not drink coffee or any caffeinated drinks so about 20min later I was much more alert but that 45-60min were horrible. Thankfully the caffeine hit as we neared that swim!
My watch measures a whole whack of data (Suunto Quest with the optional foot pod) so looking at the data now it is interesting to see. The fastest section we did on foot was from after that bridge to CP 4 in which it totalled 5.57km and we did it in 1:36h. My average stride length was 57cm with a pace of 17min per km., not bad considering that was 90% bushwhacking.
In comparison the section from CP5 - CP7 (this includes us searching for CP6, as we turned back to find it) 11.63km, total time of 7:00hrs even. Average stride length of 30cm and a pace of 36min per km. Slow.
In once sense not horrible as we have been told that you can consider your buchwacking speed to be 1/3 of your day time speed, but still, slow.
We popped back out on the tracks via that road we took down and as per the instructions were not permitted to walk across the train trestle to CP7, there were signs posted that it was trespassing and violators would be prosecuted. So, it is now 4:20am and honestly, who is going to catch us and fine us at this god for sake hour?!!! but we are Adv Racers and although we have suffered for the past few hours we did debate to swim or not to swim! we chose the water! going down to the water itself was probably one of the hardest things so far, extremely steep, soft sand or shale dangerous for sure. It was now 4:20a and you could actually see the mist coming off the water. We could see the other side which was comforting and thankfully the water looked somewhat clear, at least you could see the rocks in the water on this side of the shore. Actually in hindsight I think the channel is clear of weeds as I believe it is a thorough fare for boats going from one lake to the next being at this point only 30-50m across or so (hard to tell in the dark).
Anyway, we decided not to strip right down to underwear as we have been swimming or wading in water for the past 11hrs and have gotten used to being wet, but decided to remove our shirts, arm warmers, head bands/etc… so at least we would have dry clothes on top, knowing CP7 was near on the other side.
Christine went in first and all looked fine. Aron waited for me standing in the water but I let him go as I was confident I to would manage.
I had all my stuff packed and stowed, chest pack in its dry bag with my dry clothes and my camera in my pocket for more pictures. I decided to swim with my shoes and not bother with those fins I carried and had gotten caught on almost every tree for the past 15hrs! but they are a really tight fit, by the time it would have taken to put them on, tie on my shoes, and not knowing what difficulties awaited on the other side… I swam with my shoes on. It was not bad. We actually caught up to Christine and the water was warmer than the air. Onto the bank, I had cut sections of chamois to dry us off and they were a godsend, mind you mine was mud filled as it was attached to the outside of my pack! dry tops and up the bank, 100m later and we were at CP7 and the Transition Area (TA) for the bikes!!!
We woke the poor volunteer up! he said he had been watching us with the Spot Tracking and wondered why we turned back into the woods when we were so close to the trestle hours before. We told him we missed CP6 and not wanting to purposely miss any CP's went back into the woods, waisting probably 3hrs in the process only to not have found it in the end :(
He said we were now officially on the Short Course due to the time and told us our new route which would by-pass most of the bike section (which was the section we did in training 2 weeks ago) and head straight for the final TA to the final 6km canoe. The bike would be a 30km ride, starting on pavement and then into the woods, hydro lines and back to the road.
Being starved for the past 5hrs I could easily have eaten all my food rations for this bike section there and then, but needed it for the next section. All those bags of food I had made were allotted to the other gear bin drop off that was at the other TA that we were now not going to… in short I was still short on food.
Not much I could do, I know both Christine and Aron pack way too much food so I had that thought in the back of my head but did not want to rely on it.
Freshly changed, dry and clean feet (haha!!), clean clothes, jacket, hat, clean gloves, dry shoes, feeling like a new team of Goats we rode off into the dark up the road. We made good time to the Big Chute Marina and into the trails, mud, trail, mud, slim, hill, rock, up and over… Christine broke her chain - we had that fixed within 5min and off we went again. The ride was tough, ironically we ended up being on the same set of trails we hiked so many hours in the early afternoon when we crossed that damn bridge… and we crossed it AGAIN! on the bikes!
Eventually we made it to the road on the way to the canoes and as we popped out of the bush we saw cyclists riding by, apparently the Muskoka Triathlon was going on, as we hit the road this lady on a road bike asks if we are ok and if we need help!!! haha!! we were laughing as she had no idea what we have just been through. We're not even sure what part of her 3hr triathlon would compare to any part of the past at that point 25.5 hours that we just did!! (not saying that a triathlon is easy - no offence meant!).
Anyway, we made it to the canoes - and low and behold our buddy the volunteer from CP2 and CP4 is there with the canoes. He offers us a Kevlar canoe! (which I could almost carry with one finger, had I had any strength in that finger!) and into the water we go for the final 6km paddle.
As we docked at the final boat launch it seemed surreal, we were getting cheers from all the other competitors, lots already showered and clean, but some still rather dirty and most walking half bent over or with a stuttered gait!
We finished, 28hrs, short coursed and still smiling!!! we no longer curse Bob, and will probably remember so many more stories over the next few days the memory will clearly last a lot longer than the hours it took to make them!
Lastly, I gotta give props my team - Aron (Fishy Goat) did amazing, he had to navigate what was to be the hardest section of the entire race, and he did a great job, awesome!! he offered to help, take packs, push bikes, push people, share food, was there for us every step of the way - couldn't have done it without you. - Christine (Bossy Goat) - also did amazing, she was supportive and strong, even when she was tired. I don't think she took out her compass once for navigating in the canoe! and all the pre-race stuff was invaluable, from training days to gear thoughts and food prep. Hell, even on the bike in the last section, not her strongest discipline but she rode amazing… determined, I'm proud a proud Goat to have her on my team!
Oh - 2 more - Bob and Barb organizing an amazing race and being supportive as well, when we were feeling low we could almost hear them over the air waves, "come on guys, you're doing great! or when we corrected a navigation error - we could hear Barb out there saying "woohoo!"
Oh - and everyone that was out there tracking and sending us thoughts - that all made the difference as well!!
One more AR under our belts, many more to go!!!
p.s. - One of Aron's questions after one of the water crossings "Does anyone else feel itchy all over?!"