Channelling my inner artist at Lake Superior Provincial Park

If only I could put down on paper the images I have in my mind! I recently spent a week camping at Lake Superior Provincial Park, and the scenery did not disappoint!

My daughter and I signed up for a 3-hour art class at the Visitor Centre, and while she decided to paint the small black bear that we spotted just south of the park along Highway 17, I chose to paint a coastal scene.

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The class was open to all ages (8 and under must have a parent with them), and was instructed by a local artist named Heather Sinnott. There were a total of 10 students in the class, including just 2 kids. Before the class began, a woman asked me, “Do you blog?” She had found my post called “My 10 favourite things to do while camping at Lake Superior Provincial Park” in researching the park, and recognized me! Very neat.

The class began with a slideshow of pictures that Heather had taken in and around Lake Superior Provincial Park, as well as of her artwork.

We were given small pieces of paper, pencils and pencil crayons and told to sketch out whatever it was we wanted to paint. There were all kinds of pictures to look at in case we couldn’t decide what we wanted to draw, or in case we just needed a bit more inspiration. We could also try to paint a photo we had taken ourselves.

When most people were done their sketches, Heather gave us a little lesson on the colour wheel (she had a turtle colour wheel) and how to mix colours. We would be given only the primary colours (red, yellow, blue), white, and 2 others if we wanted them (a violet and a turquoise).

The next step was to sketch our scene onto canvas. I changed my drawing slightly, but just the proportion of beach to water to sky.

Then it was time to play with the paint!

I had fun mixing colours, but some colours were hard to create! I’m not sure when I last painted, let alone mixed colours. And then I ran into the problem of running out of the perfect colour and having to attempt to make more!

Ailish kept asking me what time it was, because she felt that she was going to run out of time.

I wasn’t sure whether to paint the background or foreground first, and decided to tackle the island first, then the trees. But I later realized that I should have done the background, because trying to fill in the white area around the trees was really hard without messing up my tree branches. I had to touch the trees up later, but I think it would have been easier to do the trees last.

As we got closer to the 3 hour mark, Ailish asked Heather for help. She suggested ways to make the painting go faster.

I wasn’t happy with the colour of my sand, but didn’t have time to start over mixing a sand colour. And my pretty purple flowers on the beach dried very dark, and aren’t really distinguishable from the sand and rocks. I asked Heather how to make my water look more water-like, so she suggested waves, and showed me how to do them. Then I added white caps.

When we were done, everyone else was pretty much gone, except for a woman from Québec City. Heather took Ailish and I outside onto the back deck of the Visitor Centre for the “Trucker’s Test”. She leaned our pictures against a railing, and we stepped back – way back – as if our pictures were billboards. From that vantage point, we could see what jumped out of the painting, and what didn’t. Heather pointed out that all my colours were dark, and that in future I could work on using darker colours and lighter colours. She added some lighter colour to my trees, and to the island and rocks. It really helped. Ailish’s tree behind the bear got a little bit of a touch-up too.

Ailish and I really enjoyed the painting class. I’m happy with my painting, but it’s far from what I was actually going for. Lots of room for improvement! I like Ailish’s painting better, and she prefers mine. That’s probably normal.

I highly recommend art programs at Ontario Parks! I did a fun one last summer at Grundy Lake too. Many parks have “Friends of” organizations, non-profits which organize different events for the parks. Take a look at the other programs organized by the Friends of Lake Superior.

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Biking at Algonquin Park: mountain, fat, and tandem (or, that time I became a movie star)

Ever star in a photo or video shoot? I hadn’t, until recently at Algonquin Provincial Park during a weekend of biking adventures.

Given that I will be participating in a canoe/mountain biking/trail running race on the Bruce Peninsula later this summer with my friend Rebecca, I figured that we should practice actually doing these activities together! Algonquin Outfitters graciously offered to let us borrow 2 mountain bikes for the weekend in exchange for a blog post on their website about my biking experience, and a photo shoot so that they could update their website content. A few days before our trip, we found out that in fact we could try any of their bikes, simply exchanging one kind for another over the weekend.

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Ready to hit the trails!

So Friday night we stopped at the Lake of Two Rivers Algonquin Outfitters store where we borrowed two Specialized mountain bikes. Because the Minnesing Mountain Biking Trail along Highway 60 was closed due to flooding, we had to drive 1 1/4 hours to the south end of the park, where we could try out the Byers Lake Mountain Bike Trail. We stopped quickly at the Pog Lake campground to register for our campsite, and then headed for the trail. When we got there, we were quickly discovered by the resident mosquitoes!! Bug spray and riding quickly were pretty effective, but if you’ve mountain biked before, you’ll know that you don’t always go quickly!! We got stuck in mud puddles at times that reduced our speed to zero and increased our bug swatting immensely! The trail wasn’t super well marked, so we weren’t totally sure that we were on it the whole time (there were lots of trail junctions), but we had fun and rode for just under an hour.

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At the end of the Byers Lake Mountain Bike Trail, on an old logging road.

On Saturday morning we met Randy from Algonquin Outfitters at the Lake of Two Rivers store for the photo shoot, which was actually a photo and video shoot. We spent a couple of hours pretending to go through the process of getting out of our vehicle, looking at the bikes, getting help from the bike rental shop, getting explanations of the various bike components, getting a helmet, and finally trying out the bikes. Chris the photographer/videographer had us reshoot some scenes multiple times because of the lighting, where we stood (or didn’t), what we did (or didn’t), etc. We had fun but we felt funny at times doing it over and over. After clear instructions from Chris to ignore stuff around us, we did just that and did not glance over when a vehicle honked its horn long and hard multiple times. It turns out we missed 2 moose crossing just in front of the store!! Randy asked us if we’d be willing to ride the trail-a-bike, which essentially is an adult bike with part of a kid’s bike trailing behind. I rode in the front, and Rebecca on the little kid’s seat! It was so hard to go straight, because our balance was way off – the back seat isn’t designed for an adult!! We were laughing though, and after 3 attempts we managed to smile and wave without falling off or crashing.

After the photo/video shoot was done at the bike shop, we exchanged our mountain bikes for fat bikes and hit the Old Railway Bike Trail. We met Randy and Chris at the old Mew Lake airfield for a few more shots.

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Map of the Old Railway Bike Trail.

The trail is pretty much flat, with just a slight uphill grade one way and a slight downhill grade the other! You can ride it on almost any bike (other than a road bike with a skinny tire – it wouldn’t be so fun on the loose gravel). We even saw a kid with training wheels on his bike. The trail is 16 km long, and quite scenic in places.

 

We decided to head West for Cache Lake, and stopped at the very end of the trail at a little bridge over a pretty creek for a snack. I had never been on a fat bike before, and thought it would be heavy and unwieldy. It wasn’t at all like that – it was light and maneouvreable. I loved it. While riding, we saw a painted turtle and tons of dragonflies. By the time we returned to the Lake of Two Rivers store, we had pedalled about 15 km. We had a delicious ice cream cone before trading our fat bikes in for a tandem bike.

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Yummy salted caramel.

The Algonquin Outfitters employee gave us some tips on riding the tandem before we tried it in the parking lot. We were pretty wobbly at first! Rebecca started in the front and me in the rear. There is a tandem bike challenge: ride all the way to Rock Lake and back (approximately 25k) and get 15% off the rental fee. We wondered if we could make it that far.

 

The hardest part was starting, and then slowing down or stopping – we took turns at the front, and had to remember to tell our passenger that we were going to slow down, because the pedals and chain are such that you pedal in sync! If one stops pedalling, the other has to as well. And when you decide to coast or brake, you need to tell your partner to stop pedalling. It didn’t take too long for us to get the hang of it. We actually rode through the Rock Lake campground all the way to the trailhead for the Booth’s Rock trail! By the time we returned to the Lake of Two Rivers store, we were pros!! The tandem was super fun!

You can also rent kids’ bikes, “cruisers” (you sit more upright, kind of old fashioned style, with more padded seats), and bikes for people with accessibility issues.

I can’t wait to go back to Algonquin this winter to try fat biking again!! While fat bikes were originally designed for winter riding, they are great for trails, mud, loose gravel etc.

I’m also looking forward to checking out Algonquin Outfitter’s new pictures and video! In particular the trail-a-bike bit…

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More photos, and eventually the videos, here.

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Race report: Ironman 70.3 Syracuse 2017

It’s amazing what a good sleep and a little bit of perspective can do.

Heading into my 3rd Ironman 70.3 Syracuse (see 2015 and 2016 race reports), and 6th half ironman overall, I knew very well what I was getting myself into. I had been obsessively checking the weather forecast (for weeks!), and given the predicted high of 40+ degrees Celsius with the humidity, I tried even harder than usual to hydrate in the days leading up to the race.

Friday

Alasdair and I headed for Syracuse after work on Friday night, and after a quick stop at Salomon Arc’teryx in Niagara to pick up the Speedcross 3 trail running shoes that I won at the Don’t Get Lost Jungle Run the week before, we sailed across the border and were on our way. I think it helped that Alasdair told the border guard that we were heading to Syracuse “for a race” rather than “for 7 hours of pure torture”.

Saturday

On Saturday morning we headed to the race site at Jamesville Beach Park for the mandatory bike check-in and pre-race meeting. I did a 5 minute ride just to make sure my bike was fine, then we registered (signed multiple waivers, got race bib, timing chip, bike and helmet stickers, a t-shirt, “morning clothes bag”, and a small backpack with a few product samples in it). We attended a pre-race briefing, which was both informative and funny. We walked back to the car to get my bike, and checked it into transition, having removed anything from it that could easily be stolen (i.e. pump and bags). We headed for the water, and at 1 PM took advantage of the lifeguard supervised swim organized by the park (rather than by Ironman). We only swam for 5-10 minutes, but it was enough for me to just be comfortable in the water. And to remember the weeds!

Sunday

On race day our alarm went off at 3:30 AM. Surprisingly, I slept well the night before and after a quick breakfast of oats, yogurt and a banana, we were on our way to the race. We arrived at around 4:30 AM, with about 25 cars or so there before us. We were there so early that transition opened just as we reached it.

I quickly set up my stuff, setting out my bike shoes, socks, sunglasses, helmet, race bib, running shoes, hat, gel, sunblock and a banana. I added my bike pump and bags back to my bike, putting a peanut butter chocolate ball, energy square and a few gels into my crossbar bag, and a bottle of gatorade and another of water in the cages. In between multiple bathroom breaks, I borrowed another athlete’s bike pump to inflate my tires, slathered myself with sunscreen, and counted racks so I could find my spot easily. I grabbed my wetsuit, swim cap, and goggles, and headed with Alasdair to the waterfront. He would be swimming only, given that his thumb wasn’t ready for a return to triathlon just yet – in particular, the hilly bike!

I checked my “morning clothes bag” into the bag check, and was ready to go!

This year, I decided to get wet pre-race but not to swim, since the previous 2 years I felt dizzy after the warm-up in the tiny rectangular area. I was standing in the water for the singing of the American National Anthem.

I lined up with the other athletes in the 6th swim wave, women 40-44 and 55+, chatted with Alasdair a little longer, and then edged closer and closer to the big inflatable arch and the start of the race.

2k Swim

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The cannon malfunctioned for the first wave, but worked for the second. I think it was just a horn after that. Soon enough, we were knee deep in water waiting for the horn to sound. My wave was the first wave of women. Music was playing as we waited, and one woman was dancing up a storm! And just like that, the race was on! I started my watch, and dove in. There was quite a lot of congestion at the start, and it took a while for me to get space and find a rhythm. I seemed to be swimming fairly straight. I was a little surprised by the waves pushing me from behind, and once I made the right-hand turn at the red buoy, I did not like them hitting me from the side! They made it harder to breathe. Turning at the next red buoy and heading back just meant that the waves were almost hitting us head on! Not only was breathing harder, but sighting too! Given that I’ve been swimming slower this year, I expected to see at least 50 minutes when I reached the shore. I was right. I walked a bit and then ran to the wetsuit strippers, who expertly peeled that thing off me once I had it around my waist and was sitting down. I ran into transition, made a quick portapotty stop, and was on my way to my bike. I put on my helmet, sunglasses, shoes, socks, sunblock, ate a banana, and off I went (T1 = 7:08). My transition was slow, but I took my time putting on sunblock.

  • 2k swim: 53:18 (2:45/100m)
  • Women 40-44: 66/90
  • All women: 303/437
  • All athletes: 1057/1476

90k Bike

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In case you had any doubt, this bike course is incredibly hilly. The first hill is an 11% grade, and shortly after that, the route climbs for 6 miles (9.6 km). It’s ridiculous, really! I forced myself to eat regularly, but my chocolate peanut butter “ball” was liquidy, and I pretty much squished it into my mouth. I also forced down a homemade energy square that was so dry I had to wash it down with water. I enjoyed my gatorade, and planned to discard the bottle at the first of three bike aid stations and pick up a water bottle. Riding along the endless rolling hills, I began to wonder why I ever signed up for this race. I convinced myself that not a single part of the race was fun, except for the very few huge downhill sections on the bike. And that I would never do this race again. That I would be Alasdair’s #1 fan next year, and cheer from the sidelines! Why was I torturing myself like this? I commiserated with other athletes at times as I passed them or they passed me. At one point, a pick-up truck passed me and startled me as he screamed at me, “Get off the F-ing road!” Was he ever angry!

The ride is actually quite scenic – how could it not be as we had to climb to the top of endless hills? At least we were rewarded with some pretty views. And whitecaps on Deruyter Reservoir – oh, the wind! Just in case hills weren’t challenging enough on their own. I have to say that there were quite a few very enthusiastic spectators along the bike course who were very encouraging. I felt at times like I couldn’t possibly ride any slower up hills without tipping over. When I reached the first aid station I wasn’t done my gatorade, so I tossed the bottle at the second aid station, and grabbed a water bottle from a volunteer. It was ice cold and so refreshing! Later I tried a new gel, “espresso”, but it was so awful I only had the first mouthful. After that I had a sickly sweet strawberry gel and that was it.

In the last third of the ride my knees started to complain. Enough hills, they said. I came to a complete stop at the third aid station, as I wanted to transfer water from the disposable bottle from the second stop to my own water bottle and make room for an orange gatorade. I absolutely hate orange flavoured anything (unless it’s an orange, or orange juice!) so I wasn’t sure I would be able to force it down – hence the need to make sure I still had water!

In the last 15 km, my stomach started to complain – it was stitches rather than digestive issues. I did force down a bit of the gatorade, but not too much (see the awful stuff in the picture below!). The last few km’s of the bike seemed to last forever. Finally, I reached the dismount line and was so relieved!

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Coming in from the bike course.

Back at my spot in transition, I racked my bike, took off my helmet and shoes, put on my running shoes and more sunblock, stopped for a pee break, and headed out (T2 = 6:22).

  • 90k bike: 3:53:50 (22.99 km/h)
  • Women 40-44: 55/90
  • All women: 244/437
  • All athletes: 937/1476

21.1k Run

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Unfortunately, I still had stomach issues so I wasn’t able to run. It was so disheartening to start out walking, and to hear finishers being announced as they passed me running the other way. I walked the majority of the first mile, and then my stomach was fine and I could run. I had decided that if I couldn’t run soon, I would quit. There was no way I was going to walk 21.1 km!

This year, the run course was changed to remove 300 feet of elevation gain. Make no mistake – it’s still a hilly course.

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Do I look exhausted, or what?

Once I started running, I tried to run all of the flats and downhills, and walk the hills when need be. I took full advantage of every single aid station, 7 on each of the 2 loops! It felt like 41 degrees Celsius with the humidity! I poured ice in my shirt and under my hat, drank water and/or gatorade, poured water on my head, took water soaked sponges and ate orange slices. I also ran through sprinklers on the course! At times I chatted with some of the other runners. And the volunteers (on every part of the swim, bike and run) were amazing! So enthusiastic, encouraging, positive! I loved it when spectators or volunteers called me by name. Or lied to me and told me that I looked strong! (Some volunteers were out there all day Saturday and Sunday, including my friend Christina. She even wrote my name in chalk on the run route! THANK YOU Christina!)

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Finishing loop #1.

Running that first loop I didn’t know how I would possibly run it a second time. But on the second lap, I ended up running beside another athlete for a while, and we eventually started to chat. It helped to pass the time and I’m sure that I ran more than I would have had I been on my own. Thank you Eric from Florida (now Connecticut!).

In the last couple of km’s my calf muscles started to tighten up. If I had had to run much longer they would have given me trouble, I think.

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Running with Eric.

As we made the final turn into the park, I commented on the speed of another runner – he said it only happened on the downhills. And then he said that his kid should be waiting around the corner with a beer for him. When we reached the corner and the beer was nowhere to be seen, he said, “My kid is so grounded!”

Since Alasdair did not bike or run, he was able to take lots of pictures of me on the run course. I had my own superfan!

Slightly sunburnt and a whole lot exhausted, I reached the finish line and was so glad to be done! I received my race medal and finisher’s hat, and went to find Alasdair.

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Done!

We grabbed some post-race food (pizza, salad, banana, water), then found some shade to eat. And then I spotted John Kelly, winner of this year’s Barkley Marathons (and the only finisher)! If you haven’t heard of the race, check it out. It is crazy. We enjoyed chatting with John for a while, and he was nice enough to allow me to get a picture with him!

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John Kelly (winner of the 2017 Barkley Marathons) and I. He also won his age group (despite a wind-fuelled bike crash) and was 5th overall at this year’s Ironman 70.3 Syracuse.

  • 21.1k run: 2:46:29 (7:53 min/km)
  • Women 40-44: 55/90
  • All women: 254/437
  • All athletes: 899/1476

In speaking with other athletes after the race, the consensus seemed to be the following: swim = choppy, bike = windy, run = hot! One guy said he had done this race 6 times and this year was the hardest. Looking at my overall race stats (see below), I’m pretty shocked with how well I did! Clearly I wasn’t the only one having a rough day! It turns out my swim and bike were slower this year (by 8 and 13 minutes respectively), but my run was faster by 3 minutes. I’ll take it.

Overall Race Stats:

  • Time: 7:47:07
  • Women 40-44: 55/90
  • All women: 254/437
  • All athletes: 899/1476
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Posing by my name.

So, 2 days post race, would I do it again? Of course I would.

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12 Weeks of orienteering: a review of the Don’t Get Lost Next program for adults

When I read the description of the new Don’t Get Lost Next orienteering program for adults, I knew that I wanted to participate!

Our brand new adult program takes the best parts of our Dontgetlost navigation clinics and our popular Adventure Running Kids program and packages it into a fun 12 week session for those 19+ that are interesting in learning map and compass skills, strategies for maximizing success in Dontgetlost Races and other navigation activities, and how to move confidently through the forest. The training takes place in a different location between Oakville and Hamilton each week and alternates each week between instructor led navigation activities and X-league (our low-key weeknight navigation races).

Note: Thursday night weather wreaked havoc on the program, with multiple sessions having to be postponed. To simplify things, I’m referring to sessions as the days we actually got together as a group, rather than the planned 12 weeks, since in the end the program took longer than 12 weeks to be completed, but some sessions contained both an instructor led activity and an X-league race!

Session 1:  Instructor led navigation: estimating distance (Bayfront Park, Hamilton)

The first night, I arrived with my brand new thumb compass, hoping to learn anything and everything I could to improve my navigation abilities! There was a great turnout, something like 15-20 adults! Our instructor Meghan explained different ways to estimate distances, from pace counting to knowing how long it takes you generally to run a certain distance, to looking ahead and judging how far away something is from you. For example, how far exactly is 100m? What does that look like? We were encouraged to run a marked distance of 100m, and to count how many steps it took us. I counted every other step, and after a few attempts, noticed that I was consistently close to 50 paces (i.e. 50 left feet). Then we were given maps, and were to practice what we learned to find the 14 controls in the park. I took the “beginner” map, which included more map features than the “advanced” map (trails were removed, man-made features, the type of ground cover, such as grass, etc.). After finding all 14 controls, I grabbed the advanced map to compare it with the one I had. Definitely more challenging! See beginner map on the left, and advanced on the right.

Session 2: X-league race (Sanctuary Park, Dundas)

I arrived at the park to find that I had left my watch, and my phone, at home! I wondered how I would manage to stay within the X-league 30 minute time limit without racing with someone else. X-league races are very low key, with the goal of finding as many controls as possible within the time limit. Points vary depending on the difficulty (25 for easy, 50 for intermediate, 75 for advanced and 100 expert), and 10 points are lost per minute over the 30 minutes allotted. Racers can compete individually or with others. When you arrive at a control, you use a manual punch to mark your map and prove that you were there. You check in at the end and write down your point total. There are no “winners” or “losers”.

I was happy to spot a familiar face arrive just before the pre-race instructions – Kim, a woman I met during the Don’t Get Lost Eliminator Adventure Run in Milton in March. Even better, she had a watch! So I asked her if I could join her and her son, and when the race started, we set off together. We decided to run along the rail trail to go for 3 controls (faster than running through the woods), and to practice the pace counting that we worked on during the first week’s session. We were bang on with our estimates. After these controls we found 2 more quite easily, finding 5 of the 10 controls. We didn’t have time to look for others. We earned 175 points out of a maximum of 500. Results here. It was a fun race, despite the pouring rain!

Session 3: Instructor led navigation: strategies for racing + X-league race (Lion’s Valley Park, Oakville)

On a beautiful spring night (a sharp contrast to the rain of the week before), we learned the importance of setting goals for a race, and then learned strategies we could use to be successful in meeting our goals. At orienteering races, you’ll find people of all ages, fitness levels, and with wide-ranging navigational abilities. While one person’s goal may be to find all the green (“easy”) controls and finish within the time limit, another person’s may be to find all the controls (“clear the course”) and be the fastest one to do so! Meghan pointed out the usefulness of being able to estimate how far you can cover in a given time, taking into consideration your level of fitness and the terrain. Then you can plan your route out better, knowing what’s realistic and what’s not. We did an exercise using string to plan out a tentative route on an old race map, measuring out the string and laying it on the map – run out of string and you run out of time!

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After the exercise, it was time for the X-league race! We had about 10 minutes to look at the map, and then were sent off into the woods to find as many of the 10 controls as possible. I had a plan for the first few, but after that decided I’d wing it depending on how things were going. I set off on my own, and very quickly found my first 3 controls (all green). It was wet and muddy in parts of the forest! After finding a couple of blue controls, I set out for one that was at the bottom of a very steep cliff, but I overshot it, and ended up with another woman looking for the same one. When I wasn’t sure where I was on the map, I decided to trace my steps to where I last knew where I was, and then I spotted the control way down the bottom. However, with just 7 minutes left, there was no time to get it! Instead, I headed back to the finish, taking a bearing and running through the forest in the right direction until I found a trail, then finding myself out in an open area again that I recognized, and from where I could just run back to the finish. I ended up 2 minutes over the time limit, so my 175 points were reduced to 155. But, I found 5 of the 6 controls I was looking for, so that’s a success! Results are here.

Session 4: Instructor led navigation: interpreting contour lines + X-league race (Spring Valley, Ancaster)

While a thunderstorm and very heavy rain cancelled the original session at Kerncliff Park in Burlington, pink ribbons had already been placed there, so we were emailed maps and encouraged to go out on our own another day to try to find the controls, keeping in mind some tips provided to help us interpret contours. There were 3 maps to choose from, a “basic” one (12 controls), an “intermediate one” (18 controls), and an “advanced” one (18 controls with many map markings removed – including all trails!). I chose to do the intermediate one, and managed to find all 15 controls that had been placed (we had been told that the final 3 on each map weren’t put out).

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Yay, 1 for 1!

As I went along and once I found each control, I tried to reconcile the contour lines with what I saw around me. It was a beautiful day and some people out walking in the park wondered what I was up to! I wasn’t the only one out with the maps – I saw 3 other program participants.

When we actually met as a group for the lesson on contour lines and the X-league race, Meghan showed us something that she made to demonstrate what contour lines on a map would look like in real life. Each 5m change in elevation is indicated by a different coloured layer, making it easy to see the relative height between the peaks all over the map. So counting contour lines on a map allows you to compare the relative heights of hills in an area.

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Great 3-D visual representation of contour lines.

After Meghan’s chat, we broke into small groups to try to build hills out of play dough to match the contour lines on paper. It was a fun hands-on learning activity. One woman in my group said that she didn’t remember the last time she played with play dough!

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After the exercise, it was time for the X-league race. This week, I decided to work with a woman named Paige, who is also fairly new to orienteering. We got our maps and planned out our route, and at the last minute Paige’s friend and another woman – both brand new to orienteering – joined us. Our plan was to head for some hydro lines to find the first control, and then to follow trails to find the rest, with limited bushwhacking required. Instead of actually descending the hill under the hydro poles, we cut down early, making it harder to spot the poles (used as reference points) and thus we overshot the control. Climbing back up the steep hill to the next control was slow going! We apologized to the others for not having time to explain things very much as we went along. In just 30 minutes there really isn’t time to stop! It was when we were looking for #7 that we got off track. We mixed up creeks (there were 2, not 1 as expected), and then we weren’t sure exactly where we were on the map. Turns out we were looking at the top of a hill, when we should have been looking in a valley. We gave up on that control, found a trail and headed back to the start, coming upon another control on our way (“Oh look! There’s another one!”). In the end we found 5 of the 6 controls we looked for in 35:40, so our 150 points were knocked down to 100. Results here. Another fun race!

A few days later, I headed into the woods of Waterdown with a friend and her daughter, neither of whom have done a Don’t Get Lost orienteering event before (but both of whom were familiar with using maps and compasses). We had a map from the previous week’s session, which was cancelled due to a weather warning. As we found the controls (plastic tape), we removed them so that Meghan had a few less to collect. We managed to find 7 of 8 that we looked for, plus 1 deer and a few blackflies!! (Later, I found out the one we didn’t find hadn’t been placed!)

Session 6: Instructor led navigation: attack points and catch features (Kerncliff Park, Burlington)

This week’s session began with a short lesson on attack points and catch features. Attack points are features close to the control that may be easier to find than the control itself, and from which you can then find the control. For example, it could be a trail junction, or a large boulder, or a fence. Catch features are things that will tell you you’ve gone too far – for example, if I reach a trail, I’ve overshot the control. Or if the forest starts to get thick, I’ve gone too far. They are something marked on the map that is further than the control you are looking for.

Then we had a choice of 2 maps for the exercise: one with controls 1-16 to be done in order, and the other essentially a “channel” through the map that you had to follow and when you found a control (not marked on the map), you had to note it and tell Meghan where you found it. I went with the first map. I attempted to find control #1 on my own, but when I found brambles instead and knew I wasn’t in the right place, I joined Meghan and some others as she explained features on the map and how she would go about finding the control. We did the first 3 like that, and then split up. I worked with a few others, trying to use attack points and catch features. Every week I’m getting better at reading the map. Tonight, I learned that a magnifying glass could come in handy! Ha! Some of the features on the map were tiny.

Session 7: X-league race (King’s Forest, Hamilton)

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A wet, foggy night.

We were in for excitement and danger this week if we didn’t follow the last minute changes to the X-league race map – because of high water levels, we were strongly advised not to cross the fast-flowing water of Red Hill Creek, which flows through Red Hill Valley.

I paired up with a woman named Paula. Our plan was to stick to the trails as much as possible, and take bearings and bushwhack when needed. We had no trouble finding the first four, but the next one we overshot, probably because we were chatting and missed a tiny trail (some trails were barely noticeable). We realized our error, and quickly found the control. Things were going so well we decided to go for a black diamond, using a land feature (a valley) to find it. From there we headed back to the start, stopping on the way to find another control. We made it back to the finish with seconds to spare. No time penalty, and a personal best 275 points for each of us. Results here. It was also my first time finding every control I looked for. Yay for progress!

Session 8: Instructor led navigation: what to do as you’re approaching a control (Lowville Park, Lowville)

This week we learned how to approach a control, from slowing down in the circle (i.e. the circle on the map in the centre of which the control is found), to looking up to spot the flag (rather than focussing on your map), to preparing yourself for the next control as soon as you spot the one you’re currently looking for. And to practice this, Meghan had set out 55 controls to find! Some were very close together (25m or less), while others were up to about 350m apart. I worked with Paula again, starting with control #1 and working our way towards #55. We were stumped by #17, but otherwise found 30 controls in just over an hour. After Meghan pointed out that I wasn’t holding my compass level, I spent the rest of the night making sure it was!

The next day, I returned to Lowville Park to find the rest of the controls, and managed to find them all. Even #17. Paula said that the reason we hadn’t seen 17 is that we were looking up as we were told to, and the ribbon was on the base of the tree! Ha! Check out the little green friend I made in the thumb picture below.

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Session 9: Instructor led navigation: urban orienteering + X-league race (McMaster University, Hamilton)

On a beautiful spring night at McMaster University we received an introductory lesson on urban orienteering. Rather than taking place in the woods, urban orienteering takes place on city streets and paths and maybe grass. A map is needed, but a compass might not be. You’re not allowed to enter buildings (“even if the door is open”, said Meghan) – you must go around! Sprint orienteering maps have some different symbols on them, so we learned how to read the maps, and in my case, I learned that I might want to pack a magnifying glass.

Then it was time for the X-league race. This would be my 2nd urban orienteering race. Because the campus isn’t that large, the controls were set out as dogbones – for example you had to do 1A then 1B, with no other controls in between (or 1B then 1A). I worked with Paula again, and we planned to get all the controls except 9A/9B and 10A/10B, because they were further away from the start/finish and there was a greater distance between the controls within the pair. We had a great time tearing around campus (I did not use a compass), and we found all the controls we were looking for. We ended up with 325 points, a new weeknight race record for both of us. Results here. We finished in 32:04, well under the allotted 40 minutes. Unfortunately, it never occurred to either of us to go for 9B, which we were really close to at one point – we wouldn’t have received points for the dogbone, but would have received some points for that control alone. Oh well!

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Look at all those hole punches!

Session 10: X-league race (Dundas Driving Park, Dundas)

The last X-league race of the spring also marked the end of the Don’t Get Lost Next program. Given that 3 days after the race I would be competing in a half ironman, I resisted the temptation to find as many controls as I could in the allotted 30 minutes. Instead, I searched for – and found – controls 1 to 6, the ones closest to the start/finish line. None of them really required me to leave the Dundas Driving Park, and most were pretty easy to spot from a distance. I returned to the finish line in 11 minutes and 30 seconds, which Meghan declared must be a new record! My 200 points were piddly compared to the scores of others, but I met my goal of resting my legs. Results here.

Summary

In short, I loved the program, learned lots, and will miss my weekly orienteering sessions! Highlights:

  • Excellent instruction with clear explanations;
  • Designed for newbies and experienced orienteers;
  • Different orienteering concepts covered;
  • Participants of various ages and fitness levels, runners and walkers;
  • Friendly, non-competitive environment;
  • New location each week; and
  • Ample opportunities to practice – make mistakes – and learn from them!

I highly recommend the program, which will be run again this fall!

Orienteering for Kids!

Do you have kids who might like orienteering? Check out the different Don’t Get Lost programs for kids ages 6 to 18: for age 6-12 there is Adventure Running Kids, and for age 13-18 there is Adventure Running X.

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Race report: Don’t Get Lost Jungle Run Orienteering Race

“What happened to your legs?” This is a common question I get after orienteering events! Sunday’s Don’t Get Lost Jungle Run at Mount Nemo Scout Camp in Burlington was no exception.

This was also the site of the Spring ARK Fest, marking the end of the Adventure Running Kids session in Hamilton, Stoney Creek, Burlington, Oakville, Milton, Kitchener-Waterloo and Niagara, so there were lots of people ready to have some fun in the woods!

The Jungle Run included 2 maps. You started with map 1, and 20 minutes into the 60 minute race you could pick up the optional map 2 with extra controls (of higher point value). In addition, there was a maze that you could find controls in, but only 4 people could be in the maze at a time. On map 1, there was an optional control called the “Killer K”. If you wanted to get this one, you had to do it first.  It was a 1000m marked route (with bright tape). We planned to focus on map 1 (starting with the Killer K), and go into the maze if we had time at the end. We mapped out our route with highlighter, and then I measured it with string to see how far we would be running, and whether it seemed doable. It did. We wanted to find as many controls as possible, going for higher point value controls when we could, and not going over the 60 minute time limit (or we would lose 10 points/minute over).

We eventually made our way over to the starting point, where the pre-race instructions were just beginning. Then just before we were to begin, there was a change to the starting location (due to Scouts Canada rules), so the Killer K was made shorter.

The race began and we followed a big crowd to the Killer K. At times going uphill we walked, as the path was narrow and the people in front of us were walking. From there we had no trouble finding our next few controls. It didn’t take us long to realize that we had underestimated our abilities, and the “we’ll go for those if we have time” controls were added to our planned route. We mostly ran on trails, but did do some bushwhacking and running through fields or on gravel roads. We only had difficulty finding one control, and only because it took longer to get there than we anticipated. In the end we found 16 of 19 controls on map 1, including the finish line control. We realized during the race that we could have gone for 2 black diamond controls that we had originally thought were too far out of the way. We could have found them instead of other lower point controls.

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Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost.

Just before heading for the finish, we ran over to the maze to check it out. There was a line-up to get in, and with abut 7 minutes left in the race, we doubted that we would get our turn. I did get a turn – I was given a small map with controls marked on it (picture a 12 foot by 12 foot roped off area, with a maze inside). Controls were at certain points in the maze, and you had to find them in order: 1, 2, 3… up to 7. I went to where #1 was supposed to be, but found that the number on the control didn’t match. I went to another one and was very confused. None of the numbers seemed to match (confirmed by 2 other participants in the maze). Since there were only 3 minutes left and my partner wasn’t in the maze yet, I gave up! I handed my map back, and we ran to the finish line. Since there were 2 controls at the finish, we punched in at the exact same time, tying for 5th place out of 8 women in the open age category.

We ended up with 620 points in a time of 57:49, and had covered about 4.6 km.

After the race, we headed over to the Stoked Oats table, where Olympian Krista Duchene was manning the booth as one of the company’s ambassadors (the other ambassador was also a runner, Tyler Chacra). I chatted with both of them for a bit, sampled some oats, and took a bag home with me.

I had some gatorade, half a banana, and a few pretzel chips, then headed over to the Salomon Arc’teryx booth to check out the shoes and fill out a ballot for a draw.

What a fun morning!

Race results

Full results here.

  • Points earned: 620
  • Time: 57:49
  • Placing: 5/8 open women

And then, the day after race, I saw this:

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Woohoo!!

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Race report: Milton sprint triathlon 2017

Milton is where it all began for me in 2010! It’s where I did my first triathlon, so the venue has special meaning for me. It has been a few years since I did the Subaru Triathlon Series Milton sprint distance at Kelso Conservation Area (other than as part of a relay), but with Multisport Canada’s elimination of some early season races (Woodstock, Belwood), I needed a race before Ironman Syracuse 70.3 in two weeks.

Alasdair would be cheering me on from the sidelines, with his thumb not quite ready for a return to racing.

It was clearly the first race of the season, as I forgot to pick up my timing chip and get body marking done after getting my race kit (swim cap, food band, t-shirt, product samples). Thankfully, I remembered while setting my stuff up in the transition zone.

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Ready to go!

We had to be in the park by 8:30 AM, despite my race not starting until 9:45, because the try-a-tri took place first and race organizers wanted to avoid cyclists and drivers on the same park road.

I was in the 4th of 5 waves, and was thankful for the in-water start (as opposed to running into the water when the race started). There were lots of rocks, making for some very ungraceful entries into the lake!

750m Swim

I lined up for the swim behind a couple of rows of people, and promptly got kicked in the head by a guy as the race began. It was pretty congested for a bit, but then things got better; however, there was still more contact than I would have liked. One swimmer in front of me was wearing shoes! I’m pretty sure that’s not allowed. In any case, my swim went okay – it was predictably slow, since I haven’t been swimming nearly as much as I should be. However, I did fairly well on the navigation side of things (clearly this orienteering business is paying off – ha!).

I struggled to get my wetsuit off, and then realized that I should have had a towel to stand on. The gravel parking lot meant for very messy feet, so I also struggled to get my socks on. As an added bonus, I was a bit lightheaded. I put on my helmet, race bib, and cycling shoes, grabbed my bike and headed for the mount line.

30k Bike

I set out on the bike course feeling pretty confident, knowing that after the one massive hill on 6th line the rest was pretty flat and fast. And then I encountered a whole bunch of rollers, and realized that the course was hillier than I remembered it to be! In any case my ride went pretty well. The roads were drying and the rain held off. I didn’t really have a time goal for the bike, but hoped I could maintain a pace in the high 20s. I knew early on that I wasn’t going to be able to reach a 30km/h average, but in the last 10k, which is more downhill than up, I decided to see how close to it I could get. Turns out I averaged 28.85 km/h in the end. Not bad.

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Finishing the bike.

I racked my bike, removed my helmet, changed my shoes, put on my hat, and headed out for the 7k run.

7k Run

The last time I did this race, the run course was quite different. It left the park, crossed Campbelville Road and went through Hilton Falls Conservation Area. Now, the course stays entirely within Kelso, going first through (hilly!) campground areas, then along a path and finally along the main park road. We had heard from try-a-tri athletes who raced before us that the path was very muddy, but when I reached it, I realized that the people saying this hadn’t run the Sulphur Springs 10k last weekend like I did – now that was muddy. I was pleasantly surprised with my pace on the run. I kind of liked the course, with 3 out and back sections meaning that you got to see other athletes multiple times. I got to cheer for my friends Emma and Kristin who were both ahead of me.

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On the trail section of the run.

The last 1+ km were pretty much downhill, so I tried to pick up the pace at the end. My average pace was 5:52 min/km, which for me is an awesome pace considering I didn’t feel that I was working that hard for it. Yay for progress.

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Just before the finish line.

I crossed the finish line in 2:06:40.2. I’m pretty happy with how it went, considering it was the first race of the season. Lots of room for improvement!

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Race stats:

  • Swim (750m): 18:59.4 (2:31/100m)
  • T1: 2:24
  • Bike (30k): 1:02:23.3 (28.85 km/h)
  • T2: 1:49
  • Run (7k): 41:05.7 (5:52 min/km)
  • Time: 2:06:40.2
  • Women 40-44: 14/17
  • All women: 69/118
  • All athletes: 303/425

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Field testing my new stick stove, the KIHD Stove Ultimate

I had to wait nearly 3 months to try out my brand new stick stove, the KIHD Stove Ultimate, which I bought at the Outdoor Adventure Show in Toronto in February. I intended to take it to Algonquin in early May, but the weather looked horrible and I figured all the wood would be wet. It was a good decision. It was wet – very wet – along the Western Uplands Trail!

Two weeks later I set out on my very first solo backpacking trip, a hike at Point Grondine Park on the Point Grondine Reserve. My stick stove was tucked nicely inside my pot, which also held the rest of my “kitchen” stuff (bowl, spoon, dishcloth, dish soap, water treatment drops, fire starters, matches, hand sanitizer, flint). I did bring my MSR Dragonfly stove as a back-up, in case the wood was wet or I couldn’t boil water!

Before I describe my experience with the Stove Ultimate, here’s what the KIHD website says about it:

For settings where wood is plentiful and burning it will not cause damage to fragile ecosystems, this wood burning stove allows you to travel without carrying fuel and it packs down to the size of a pancake.

The individual titanium panels easily fit into place during setup and the unique locking mechanism lock it together. The low square design focuses heat upward, directing it to the pot for quick, efficient cooking.

  • Made of ultra-light titanium, a material that withstands long-term heat without damage.
  • Designed for pots no larger than 1.5L.
  • Removable access door can be inserted or removed for air-control and for refuelling.
  • Assembled dimensions are 11.0 x 11.0 x 12 cm carrying case.

Technical Specifications

  • Made with 20 gauge Titanium 20
  • Weight: 0.529 Lbs (240g)
  • Packed size is 11 x 11 x 12 cm
  • Carrying case included
  • Made in Canada

There are 9 pieces to the stove, and it is very quick and easy to assemble. At Point Grondine, I set the stove inside the designated fire pit (the pictures above with stones were from a separate testing elsewhere). Using only my hands (no saw or knife required), I broke tiny pieces of wood off the dead branches that I gathered from my campsite. I set some in the stove – in a haphazard way – and then since I had brought homemade fire starters with me, I put a wax coated cotton ball in the middle of the stick pile.

On the 2nd match, the fire lit! As soon as I was convinced it was going to continue burning, I put my pot with water on the stove, and covered it with the lid. I continued to feed the fire with progressively bigger sticks. I even had a bit of the fire going outside the stove, which I would shove inside with another stick. I didn’t use the door at all. I used my 2L pot, and within 9 minutes I had boiled 1L of water. I made hot chocolate, and added the rest to my bowl of dehydrated butternut squash soup. Once it was ready, I ate it with homemade sesame pepper crackers. Yum.

Later, I boiled another litre of water to make a hot water bottle for inside my sleeping bag. I left the stove for a few minutes until it had cooled, and then I put it away. My only complaint about the stove is that – not unexpectedly – it quickly went black, and my fingers got messy packing it away. It does, however, come with its own cloth case to keep the blackness from getting the rest of your gear wet (or from scraping your pot).

I used the stove again the next morning to boil water for tea and oatmeal. This time, it was raining, but I cooked out in the open and it worked just fine. The pot completely covered the fire, so my dry wood (kept under a tarp overnight) stayed dry.

I was surprised at how little wood the stove used. I left a big pile for the next campers.

After my trip, I took my stove to my parents’ house to show them how neat it is. And of course I couldn’t sustain enough heat to boil water as quickly as when I had been camping. I’ll blame their wood! This time, I played with the door after boiling the water just to try it out. It was easy to put on and remove. I wondered whether it would be too hot to the touch, but it was fine.

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What the inside of the stove looked like after burning.

I can’t see myself switching over completely to a stick stove for my canoeing and backpacking trips (wet wood, environmental impact), but I do like the idea of bringing it along, and carrying slightly less fuel, knowing that if the weather is good, I can cook a few meals on the stick stove. It’s fun and it beats the loud noise of my MSR Dragonfly! The stick stove is also a great back-up in case my Dragonfly pump fails, my fuel is spilled, or any other stove calamity strikes! It is very light weight, and so compact! Bonus that it fits inside my pot. I’m looking forward to using it on my next trip!

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