My foray into orienteering and adventure racing

It didn’t take much to convince me to try orienteering and adventure racing: I was inspired by the enthusiasm of friends Kristi and Michael who recently spent the weekend at my house. They and their two boys Evan and Lukas are members of Orienteering Ottawa and have competed in both Canada and the US. They (and Kristi through her blog!) made it sound really fun, so after they left, I registered for the “Navigation 101” 4 hour clinic through Don’t Get Lost, an orienteering club in the Hamilton/Niagara area. Several years ago my kids participated in the Don’t Get Lost 12-week Adventure Running Kids program, which I highly recommend! Here’s the Navigation 101 course description:

Learn the basics of map and compass skills in the first 2 hours of this clinic. Learn to read and understand maps, map legends and scales.  Basic compass skills will be introduced, for map orientation and introductory bearings. Preparatory route selection and relocation techniques will be covered. The second half of the clinic introduces concepts and strategies for improving your basic navigation skills. Learn about handrails, catching features and attack points. Practice “aiming-off”, “attacking from above” and “contouring.” Learn about pace counting and distance judgment. Relocation techniques are practiced in the woods. Discover how planning ahead can help you stay on track. The role of the navigator is also presented.

On a more practical note, taking a navigation clinic would strengthen my very limited map and compass skills, so that when I’m backcountry camping I don’t have to rely only on my battery-powered GPS unit! I have been wanting to do a hands-on clinic for a few years now.

So, I signed my daughter and I up for the clinic in Ancaster, and we learned lots in those 4 hours. The instructors (Meghan and Chris) were excellent.

Of course the next (il)logical step was to sign myself up for an orienteering race – in the dark!

Spoiler alert: I am home typing this blog post, so I survived, didn’t get (too) lost in the dark, and even earned a few points!

I arrived at Kerncliff Park in Burlington for the X-League 30 minute race. Some might wonder, “What could possibly go wrong in 30 minutes?” I knew better. I checked in on arrival (with Meghan my instructor from the clinic), paid $5 (fundraiser for Don’t Get Lost adventure running athletes), picked up a map, and was able to orient myself and study the map to plan an approach before the race began. I was nervous, hoping that I wouldn’t get completely lost – at least we were required to carry a whistle! Next time I would probably arrive earlier to have a few more minutes to prepare. I also spotted Chris the other instructor.

At 6:55 PM there was a very short pre-race briefing, during which Meghan mentioned that the controls (checkpoints) were inside the circles on the map. She also told us to use the hole punch on our map at the controls to prove that we were there. By this point, it was dark out and everyone was wearing headlamps. With a countdown from 10, the race was on!

Given that this was my first race (in the dark no less), and you could attempt to do as few or as many of the controls as you wanted to in 30 minutes, I decided to go for only the “easy” ones, not the “intermediate”, “advanced” or “expert” ones. I planned to do #1, then #2, then #4, and if I made it that far, I would decide what to do. There were 11 in total. When the race started I wasn’t the only one running for #1 – there were 5-10 headlamps in front of me (this made it rather easy to find). Ditto for #2, but I did take a bearing with the compass and follow along on the map for both of them. From there I headed for #4, but couldn’t for the life of me find it. I did find a man – a parent volunteer for the kids doing their Adventure Running Kids program – who didn’t know if a control was there but did think there was one on the bridge. I hadn’t seen a bridge. I backtracked back up the hill, went down again to the little creek, and when I couldn’t find it still, decided to backtrack again, find the path and head for a different control. As I was out there, I also realized that I wasn’t holding the map the way I should have been, moving myself around the map rather than the map around me (to keep it oriented to always be facing the way it should be). It was then that I got mixed up and wasn’t sure where I was. But I found Chris, who was also turned around. We started looking for #6, but it turns out we weren’t where we thought we were, and given the time we had to give up and head back to the finish. We did eventually figure out where we were (it was mostly Chris!), and we reached the end approximately 3 minutes over the 30 minute cut-off (Meghan wrote our time down).

I had to calculate my points (before time penalties) and it was pretty easy – 25 points for #1 and 25 for #2. I wrote them on a sheet along with everyone else’s results (at least a couple of people got all controls!). With probably 30 points in penalties, I think I ended up with 20 points. Woohoo! I was in the positive. I could have ended up with 0, or not found a single control.


See the punches at #1 and #2. Proof that I made it there!

In talking to people afterwards, I realized my error at #4 – I was looking for the control under the number four on the map, not under the circle!!! I was assured that this was a rookie mistake that everyone makes. It was actually on the bridge that the man mentioned to me!

When I got home (I got home!) I realized that I hadn’t even looked at the scale on the map before I started running – another potential fatal flaw!

All in all I had fun, and was glad to have found Chris out there to find my way back. I learned how much harder it is to navigate at night in the dark, but how fun orienteering can be. I’d say there were about 30 people doing the race tonight, and I may have been the only brand new one. The people I spoke with were very friendly.

I am hoping to do another weeknight X-League race before the November 13 Raid the Hammer 12k adventure run, which I have signed up to do with my teammates Alasdair and Rebecca (ARK de Triumph triathlon relay team reunited as an orienteering team) – a first orienteering race for them (I’m now the expert – ha!). In the meantime, I’ll likely take my Kerncliff Park map and go back to try to find where the controls were tonight – they won’t be there, but I’ll get to practice my map reading skills!

I think I’m hooked.

[UPDATE: I might have finished in last place, but I actually got 30 points, not 20, with only 20 time fault penalties! There’s hope for me yet. Results here.]

Posted in Orienteering, Skills | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Perfecting dehydrated chicken

Have you ever bitten into a piece of overly chewy rehydrated dehydrated chicken and thought, “There has to be a better way!”? Or have you been thinking about dehydrating chicken but weren’t sure how to do it? This post is for you!

A few years ago on a camping trip I ate a very disappointing chicken couscous meal with really tough rehydrated diced chicken. It was a meal that I had prepared.  After that failure I gave up dehydrating chicken – until recently. I had read online that canned chicken dehydrated and rehydrated well, so when my daughter asked for chicken noodle soup for our fall mother-daughter canoe trip, I decided to try it. I added it to the noodle/veggie mix, and the texture was perfect. I thought I’d do an experiment to see which kind of chicken and size/shape resulted in the best texture. In other words, I set out to perfect the dehydration of chicken!

I experimented with baked chicken breast, canned chicken, and thinly sliced chicken sandwich meat from the deli counter. With the chicken breast, I put some in the food processor, some I shredded with my grater, some I diced into small pieces, some I cut into larger pieces, and some I cut into thin strips. With the canned chicken, I sliced some thinly and the rest I broke into tiny bits. With the sandwich meat, I sliced one piece into thin strips and left two slices as is.


BEFORE DEHYDRATING — TOP ROW left to right: chicken breast grated, chicken breast food processor, sliced sandwich meat, sandwich meat, chicken breast big chunks BOTTOM ROW left to right: canned sliced, canned tiny bits, chicken breast diced, chicken breast sliced thinly.

I used my Excalibur 9-tray to dehydrate the chicken, using the meat setting of 155 degrees Fahrenheit. I took the various trays out at different times, as the chicken dried.

Here is a list of the weight of the chicken before (B) and after (A) dehydration, the percentage of weight lost and the length of time I had each kind in the dehydrator:

  • chicken breast grated: 39g (B), 12g (A), 69%, 5 hours
  • chicken breast food processor: ?g (B), 30g (A), unknown %, 5 hours
  • chicken breast sliced thinly: 35g (B), 10g (A), 71%, 6 hours
  • chicken breast diced: 66g (B), 20g (A), 70%, 8 hours (could probably have used longer, but I had to go out)
  • chicken breast larger chunks: 64g (B), 24g (A),  62.5%, 8 hours (could probably have used longer, but I had to go out)
  • canned chicken small bits: 36g (B), 9g (A), 75%, 5 hours
  • canned chicken sliced thinly: 78g (B), 16g (A), 79.5%, 5 hours
  • sandwich meat: 44g (B), 11g (A), 75%, 4 hours
  • sandwich meat sliced thinly into strips: 19g (B), 5g (A), 74%, 4 hours

AFTER DEHYDRATING —  TOP ROW left to right: chicken breast grated, chicken breast food processor, sliced sandwich meat, sandwich meat, chicken breast big chunks BOTTOM ROW left to right: canned sliced, canned tiny bits, chicken breast diced, chicken breast sliced thinly.

After everything was dried, I packaged it into ziploc bags and left it overnight.



All the dehydrated chicken.

The next day was taste test day! I boiled water, and poured enough over each dish to more than cover the chicken. In fact, there was probably twice as much water as necessary in each dish. I covered each dish with plastic wrap, and left them for 15 minutes.


Water added to each dish. TOP ROW left to right: chicken breast grated, chicken breast small diced, canned small bits, chicken breast big chunks BOTTOM row left to right: chicken breast food processor, chicken breast sliced thinly, canned sliced thinly, sandwich meat.


Rehydrating chicken under plastic wrap.

Next it was time to taste each kind of chicken. Here are my thoughts on each one:

  • chicken breast grated: good texture, not chewy
  • chicken breast food processor: good texture, very slightly chewy
  • chicken breast sliced thinly: bigger/thicker pieces chewy, smaller/thinner pieces good texture
  • chicken breast diced: very chewy, edible
  • chicken breast larger chunks: inedible
  • canned chicken small bits: great texture
  • canned chicken sliced thinly: great texture, softest
  • sandwich meat: a little rubbery, but could actually make a sandwich – I think!
  • sandwich meat sliced thinly into strips: a little rubbery

While I had removed a small amount from each dish, I left the chicken rehydrating for another 15 minutes, so that after a total of 30 minutes I could taste test it again. I didn’t notice a difference in the chicken compared to the first testing. I could have left the chicken even longer, but I don’t think the diced chicken or big chunks would have gotten any better – and eventually, leaving meat out long enough may result in nasty stuff growing on it.

So the winners are canned chicken (broken into little bits or sliced), or chicken breast grated or in the food processor. The texture of the canned chicken was definitely the best – it was soft, and not at all chewy. The grated chicken and chicken in the food processor were very similar. I likely could have crumbled the chicken from the food processor part way through drying and it would not have been chewy at all – just a guess.


Starting from the sandwich meat (tip of the pencil and going clockwise): sandwich meat, chicken breast grated, chicken breast food processor, chicken breast diced, chicken breast sliced thinly, canned small bits, canned thinly sliced, chicken breast big chunks.

In future I will not hesitate to dehydrate chicken! Have you dehydrated chicken successfully? Do you have a favourite backcountry meal with dehydrated chicken?

For more backcountry food preparation tips, look here.

Posted in Backcountry camping, Dehydrating, menu planning | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Trip report: 1st ever mother-daughter canoe trip, Ralph Bice Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park

At some point this summer, my 12 year old daughter suggested that the two of us could go on a canoe trip together. In fact, it must have been during our Massassauga Provincial Park girls only adventure in August, because that’s when we planned our menu for the trip. We originally decided on a 2-night adventure with no portaging, where we would stay on Magnetawan Lake at Algonquin Provincial Park. I made the reservation, and we were all set. However, when I told Randy from Algonquin Outfitters of my plan, he suggested that we could easily do a 2-night trip on Ralph Bice Lake (from the same access point), a trip that would involve 2 short portages. I checked with Ailish, she was keen to try it, so we changed our reservation and looked forward to departure day! We practised getting the canoe onto the roof of our van together, and while it may not have been pretty, I knew that we’d be able to portage just the 2 of us.

Shortcut to the slideshow! Click on one picture, then on the little “i” (see top right) and you’ll be able to read the picture captions.

DAY 1: Home to Park Office at Kearney Community Centre to Magnetawan Lake (access point #3) to Hambone Lake to Ralph Bice Lake.

After a 7 AM departure, we arrived at the Park Office at the Kearney Community Centre around 11 AM, where we picked up our backcountry permit, and heard that all 17 campsites on Ralph Bice Lake were booked for the night. I hoped that it wouldn’t be too hard to find an empty one, and that we wouldn’t have to paddle to the far end of the lake either. We drove about 40 minutes to the Magnetawan Lake access point and snagged an awesome parking spot (right next to the loading/un-loading spots). I untied the canoe right away, and decided to ask some men for help in taking the boat off the van. They both headed over to remove the canoe, but I clarified that I just needed one – I could do it with help! I thanked them and they continued getting their stuff ready for their own trip. Ailish and I ate our lunch, and then we carried the canoe and our 2 packs plus paddles, camelbaks, pelican case and knee pads approximately 50m down to the water – in a few trips! The access point was quite busy, with several groups plus a big one with what looked like a dozen adults in matching life jackets learning paddling skills on shore. We put our canoe into the water (there is space for 2 canoes, one on either side of a dock), and someone immediately put theirs right behind mine, essentially blocking my access to my packs. He realized what he had done, apologized and got my packs for me. We felt rushed to get in the boat and take off, but once we were away, it was all good.


Heading out on Magnetawan Lake.

Ailish was in the bow, and me in the stern. We paddled for about 2 minutes (really) before we reached the 135m portage from Magnetawan Lake to Hambone Lake. I asked my new best friends (the guys from the parking lot) for help again to teepee the canoe so I could get under it, and they gladly assisted. This became a theme over the course of the weekend. I was not above asking for help, and everyone I asked was very friendly and willing to assist us!

The paddle through Hambone Lake was slightly longer, but it isn’t a big lake. We got to the portage to Magnetawan Lake and I asked a couple for help. “Do you know how to ranger?”, he asked. I had no clue what he meant, so he proceeded to give me a lesson (and teepee the canoe for me).

Once we got onto Ralph Bice Lake, we decided that we would take the first available empty campsite. Once the lake opened up and was wider, we met the wind that I had read could be an issue on Ralph Bice Lake. We had to decide whether to go along the left shore, or the right shore, because I didn’t want to travel straight through the middle in the wind. We opted for the left shore, since the first campsite would appear sooner. As it turns out, we were really noticing the wind as we approached the first campsite, and were disappointed to see that it was taken. Looking into an inlet to the left, we weren’t sure if the campsite was taken – what turned out to be a log looked like it might be a canoe. Looking at the only other campsites we could see, one was definitely taken and one looked like it probably was, so we opted to go into the inlet. The problem was that a direct line to the campsite meant that the waves were hitting the canoe directly from the side, and we were not happy about that. So, I turned upwind and decided to overshoot the campsite and then turn back. It didn’t take long for us to realize that the campsite was unoccupied – yay! We eventually had to deal with side waves again on our final approach to the campsite. If you’ve been to this campsite, you’ll know that it has a very steep access, with a rock face all along the approach. Now picture us being pushed – repeatedly – into the rock as I tried to calculate how to step out of the boat onto the wet steep rock without falling into the water. It was only once we were safely on shore that my daughter told me that she was terrified I was going to slip and fall into the water and she was going to float out into the middle of the inlet in the canoe in the wind on her own! But we made it and no one got wet. It turns out those were the biggest waves we saw all weekend (of course). It had taken us just over 2 hours to get to our campsite from the time we first started paddling – a distance of 4.07 km paddling and 405m portaging (we did a double carry).

After the slightly dramatic arrival, we unloaded the canoe, pulled it safely uphill, and set about figuring out where we would erect our tent, put up a tarp in case of rain, and hang the bear bag and hammock. As soon as the tent was up, Ailish got in and I set up a tarp and threw a rock over a tree branch for our bear bag. We explored our campsite, finding so many kinds of fungi! The variety amazed us – different sizes, shapes and colours in such a small area. We played some cards, read our books, had our homemade chicken noodle soup and homemade buns with raw veggies for dinner, and attempted – but failed – to start a small fire. All of the wood was wet. The previous campers had left wood all nicely piled and sorted by size, but we weren’t able to make anything burn for long. My MSR Dragonfly stove wasn’t pressurizing properly, so I was a bit worried we’d be cooking on the campfire all weekend – if we could start a fire – or eating cold food! Before heading to bed, we boiled water so that we would each have a 1 L hot water bottle (Nalgene bottle) in our sleeping bag overnight. I managed to make the stove cooperate. Day time temperatures for the weekend were around 15 degrees Celsius, and night time lows just above freezing. We were cozy in our winter sleeping bag (Ailish) and fall sleeping bag with fleece liner (me) along with our hot water bottles! After going to bed we heard loons and other campers trying to call to wolves.

DAY 2: Exploring Ralph Bice Lake


Early morning on Ralph Bice Lake.

After a yummy breakfast of oatmeal, dried fruit, gatorade and tea for me, and oatmeal/peanut butter/chocolate chips, dried fruit, gatorade and hot chocolate with marshmallows for Ailish, we explored Ralph Bice Lake a bit, including one of the islands near our site. We found some shrivelled turtle eggs there. We spent the rest of the day playing cards, putting up and using our hammock, reading, napping, collecting dry firewood, doing art and just plain relaxing!


Swing time!

Our lunch was bagels and mud with dried fruit, and our dinner tortilla pizzas baked on the fire (there were 2 grills at the campsite, one of which coated with tin foil worked perfectly). The pizzas were delicious. We also made banana boats on the fire, with bananas, chocolate, and marshmallows (no banana for Ailish)! While sitting at the fire (dry wood burns!) we noticed about 20-30 small fish jumping out of the water at the same time. And then again a few minutes later. We had no idea what kind of fish they were, or what they were doing! After hanging the bear bag for the night, Ailish decided she was hungry, so I got it down, and we had a snack of naan bread. Unfortunately, mine was mouldy! Yuck. We were in the tent before it got dark, but came out to have a look at all the stars. Ailish was impressed.

DAY 3: Ralph Bice Lake to Hambone Lake to Magnetawan Lake to home


Early morning on Ralph Bice Lake.

On our last morning, we ate our breakfast and then packed everything up. Ailish had missed her daddy and our kitties (not her brother), and was eager to be home! We paddled over to the portage to Hambone Lake, but because we were the only ones there, we had to manage the portage ourselves. It was slightly harrowing, but Ailish managed to hold the canoe up high enough for me to get under it. And then from there, the portaging was easy. We were paddling along, discussing the animals we had seen over the course of the weekend (a few mice – some in the thunderbox! – loons, squirrels, and the jumping fish) when we turned a corner in Hambone Lake and I spotted something moving along the shoreline. A moose – and it’s mamma!


Mamma moose and baby on Hambone Lake.

We headed – very slowly – toward the moose, watching them as they watched us. We didn’t get very close, and they eventually headed into the woods. Such a great experience for us. Ailish had never seen moose other than from the car before. We arrived at the portage to Magnetewan Lake, and I once again asked for help from a group of 4 men. The guy who helped told me that he has to teepee the canoe for his buddy to carry too. We got back into the canoe and finished our trip with the short paddle back to the dock. We had emptied the canoe and pulled it onto shore just before the guys arrived behind us. Ailish and I loaded everything into the van, one of the guys helped load the canoe onto the van, I strapped it on, and away we went!

We enjoyed our canoe trip and I look forward to another one just the two of us.

Since arriving home, I’ve learned that Ralph Bice wrote a book called “Along the Trail in Algonquin Park”. I’ve put a hold on the book at my local library, and I look forward to reading more about the man for whom Butt Lake was renamed (his favourite lake in Algonquin).


Posted in Backcountry camping, Canoe trip reports, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Race report: Barrelman 1/2 Ironman 2016

My 11th and final triathlon of 2016 was to be the Multisport Canada Skechers Performance Niagara Falls Barrelman (1/2 ironman) presented by Recharge with Milk. It was the 3rd year for this amazing race, which I have participated in each time. It was also the very last triathlon in Ontario for 2016, and the biggest 1/2 ironman in North America this year outside of the “Ironman” brand (over 800 athletes).

On Saturday we drove to the Welland International Flatwater Centre, which was the canoe/kayak venue for the 2015 Pan Am Games. The Barrelman is a point to point race, starting in Welland and ending in Niagara Falls. T1 is at the Flatwater Centre, and T2 at Kingsbridge Park in Niagara Falls.


With Irina, who calls this a “Kyrasdair sandwich”! [Photo by Zindine]

We went through registration, signing a waiver, picking up our race bibs, timing chips, t-shirts, swim caps, product samples, and black “wetsuit” bags, red “run” bags, and clear “after race” bags.

We attended a mandatory pre-race briefing at 2:30 PM, and found our eyes constantly wanting to watch the simultaneous sign language interpretation of the briefing, arranged for one deaf athlete (Multisport Canada takes care of its athletes!). The interpreter’s face was so expressive! Having done the race 2 times before, we actually didn’t learn anything new, but we felt it was important to attend anyway.

We put our bikes at our assigned spots on the rack, and headed to our hotel in Niagara Falls.


Bike ready to spend the night under the watchful eye of security personnel. [Photo by Alasdair]


View from our hotel in Niagara Falls!


Gear all ready to go.

Race Day!

We woke up at 5:30 AM, and after eating breakfast (muesli and a banana for me) and packing up, we headed for the Upper Falls parking lot where we would park our car and hop on a school bus for the 25 minute shuttle to T1. At the bus stop there were volunteers taking our red run bags, which contained everything we would need for the run portion of the race – I had shoes, a hat, sunscreen, a banana and a gel in there. You could also leave your “after race” bag but I wasn’t ready to part with mine yet.

Once we arrived at T1, we set up our swim and biking stuff in transition, chatted with other athletes, went to the bathroom a few times, got body marking done, slathered on the sunscreen, got wetsuits on, and once I was done taking pictures, I parted with my “after race” bag. A helpful athlete from Oklahoma asked me if I’d like help putting my sunscreen on, as he watched me struggle to put it on my back – “I’m no Romeo!” he said.

2016-09-18 | 2016 MultiSport Niagara Falls Barrelman

With my new friend from Oklahoma – not sure why I’m giving him that look! From the # on his arm, I’ve since learned that his name is John (and, he beat me).

You could also drop your red run bag at T1 for volunteers to transport to T2 ready and waiting for you after the ride. I did a very short warm-up swim, found Alasdair again, listened to our national anthem, and was ready to go!




Struggling to put his wetsuit on.

Alasdair was starting in the 2nd wave after the pros, and me the 3rd, so we wished each other well and he headed for the water.


The swim course is a rectangle, in which you swim nearly 1 km towards a bridge, turn right to cross the canal, turn right again and head back nearly 1 km before the last turn which takes you to shore. It’s pretty hard to go too far off course, given the small width of the canal!

2016-09-18 | 2016 MultiSport Niagara Falls Barrelman

See the orange arm on the left? I was following that swimmer the entire way. Except when she seemed to be swimming crookedly!

I had a smooth start, and really, a pretty unremarkable swim. I spent a long time sighting off of the orange-sleeved wetsuit of another athlete, which made things even easier. At one point two athletes, one on either side of me, kept swimming into me, sandwiching me in between. I had to stop for a second and swim wide of one of them. Since I’ve been swimming slower this year (not sure why), I expected to see 50+ minutes when I stopped swimming. I got to the swim exit, was extended a helping hand by one of the volunteers, and looked at my watch: 49:XX. A full 4+ minutes slower than last year, but not unexpected. I ran along the paved path of the canal, undoing my wetsuit as I went. By the time I reached the stairs it was at my waist. I got whacked in the face by another athlete’s elbow as we climbed the stairs, but I was fine!

I found my bike (and noticed that only 5 other bikes remained on my rack), ate a banana, took off my wetsuit, put on my socks and shoes, helmet, sunglasses, had a quick pee break and I was off for the bike mount line.

89k Bike

My plan for the bike was to try to beat last year’s speed of 28 km/h. Because I had such a slow swim, and there was only one wave of athletes starting after me, I figured I would pass a lot of people on the bike. And I did.

2016-09-18 | 2016 MultiSport Niagara Falls Barrelman

Starting the bike.

Some people count the number of cyclists they pass, or the number who pass them. Me? I count turtles. Yup, in the waterway that we rode beside in the first part of the course (the “out”). It passed the time and was much more interesting than staring at pavement. For the record, I counted 20. I found the first 10k of the course fast, and was averaging 30km/h. I felt a headwind at 10-15k, but it was nothing compared to previous Barrelman winds! The next section of the course is the “loop”, which included riding for a while along Lake Erie. Such a beautiful spot on the course! I was feeling good on the bike, and making sure I kept eating my homemade goodies at regular intervals – a peanut butter chocolate ball, a “gonky” ball, and a cricket almond protein bar (as the chocolate peanut butter ball melted, it all kind of mushed into one, which I scooped out with my fingers!). I also drank a full bottle of gatorade and nearly a bottle of water. I was amazed by how many people dropped full bottles of gatorade or water on the course (Alasdair noted the big piles just after the multiple train track crossings!). I also spotted an asthma inhaler and multiple bike gear bags that were lost! With the winds forecasted to be from the south west, we were anticipating about 40k of tailwind in the “back” section – the ride towards Niagara Falls. I was managing to hover around 30km/h and was happy with my ride, despite an annoying clicking that my bike was making. At one point, another athlete said to me, “My bike made that noise! It was the rear bracket!” I have no idea what that means, and I’m not even sure I heard him properly. I thought he might have said that I should kick the rear bracket! In any case, my bike didn’t fall apart so it was all good. Just after the 56k mark, we had to ride through a tunnel. There was a spectator there banging on the metal handrail inside the tunnel (there’s a sidewalk running through the tunnel), and as I got closer he banged harder and more frequently – I appreciated his enthusiasm but it was SO loud when I got close to him! Near the end, as we were riding along the Niagara Parkway (along the river – another beautiful spot on the course), two older men who were not in the race were cycling along. I said to one, “Too bad we have to run 21.1k now!” He laughed and asked if we had swum 5k. I said no, 2k, then a 90k ride – actually, 89k! He laughed again and wished me well. The time between the 85k marker and the dismount line passed quite quickly. I was glad to be done the ride, but had no pain, no tight back or anything to complain about. Except maybe having to run a half marathon.

I had not visited T2 since last year, but had studied the map and knew where to find the spot to leave my bike, the spot where my red run bag would be waiting for me. I changed my shoes, removed my helmet, put on my hat, slathered sunscreen again on my shoulders, arms, face and back of my neck, made a quick stop in a portapotty, and headed out for the run. As I started running I heard Steve Fleck announcing that Irina was finishing her race (the swim bike) and he also wished her a happy birthday! I heard that the #1 and #2 males had already finished, and #3 was on his way in. I just had a half marathon to go. Sigh!

21.1k Run

I felt good starting the run, and planned to try to run the entire thing at a pace that I could hold throughout, while still allowing myself to walk through the aid stations. In previous years I ended up walking due to cramps and didn’t want that to happen again. Between 2 and 3k, I spotted Alasdair for the first time during the race. Due to the nature of the bike course, we didn’t see each other on the out and back section, because we were both in the “loop” section at the same time (I would have had to be WAY behind him to meet him in the out and back part). He was not too far ahead of me. His plan was to go a little easier on the bike, and hope to be able – for once – to not have knee/IT band issues and be able to run the entire time (minus the steepest hills and aid stations).I also caught up to Kim (on her 2nd loop, my 1st), which only happened because she was having some significant stomach issues. At first I drank Heed and water at the aid stations, but as time went on I ate pretzels (by accident – well, I asked for them when I meant to say grapes!) and later grapes, and started pouring water on my head as well. It wasn’t that hot out – and there was cloud cover for a lot of the run – but it felt really refreshing to do so. I saw Alasdair again as he was starting his 2nd loop of 10.5k and I was ending my first. I got cheers from my swim coach Mat, and from Dany (who won the men 25-29 age group by nearly 7 minutes!) and Kathleen (who Alasdair runs with – they too are Fighting Koalas). For the first time in 3 years I ran up the steepest hill on the run route (yay me!), and in fact, stuck to my plan until 12k. Then, I got a side stitch. Despite changing my breathing, elevating my arms, and just plain wishing it would go away, it stayed. And then, for an added bonus, my right knee started bugging me (I never have knee issues!). I had to walk a bit. For essentially the remainder of the race, I did a run/walk combination, running when I could, and walking when the side stitch or knee hurt too much (my knee actually only bothered me a few times). It was quite disappointing, because it had been going so well! After the swim/bike, I was on track for a PB if I could just run the whole time! That PB slowly slipped away… and then I started wondering how many minutes slower than last year I was going to be. I talked to a few people during the run who were having similar disappointing run/walk experiences, including Sam, who caught up to me and asked me if I was Irina and Emma‘s friend. It was in this last stretch that I got a high five from a young girl, and cheers from spectators and athletes who had already finished. With about 1k to go, I said to one woman, “Tell me I can do this!” and she said “You got this!” (or something like that).

2016-09-18 | 2016 MultiSport Niagara Falls Barrelman

On the home stretch.

My side stitch was quite bad in the last little bit, so I’m pretty sure I was grimacing something fierce in the last few hundred metres! I saw and heard Alasdair cheer for me just before the finish. I crossed the line, received a handshake from one of the Multisport Canada crew, and had Nicole put my medal over my head. I was so glad to be done! In the end my time was 6:41:27.8, or just under 11 minutes slower than last year.

2016-09-18 | 2016 MultiSport Niagara Falls Barrelman

Done! (And with hand on side stitch.)

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing volunteers at the race, from registration to the helpers pulling athletes out of the water, to those at the aid stations, intersections, finish line, food tent and everywhere in between! I could not finish this race without you! Thank you for spending 1 hour or all day volunteering your precious time! (If you’ve never volunteered at a race, consider doing it – it’s a hugely rewarding experience!)

Thank you to John Salt and his fantastic team, who once again put on a terrific race. This race is John’s baby, and he’d like to see it grow – from 800 athletes this year to 1,000 next year. Sign up, bring your friends, and see you at the start line!


Post-race with Irina (who won the Martin’s Apple Chips prize pack) and Emma (who won the Computrainer!). I was hoping for the 1/2 day training with Cody Beals! [Photo by Zindine]

On the podium one way or another! [Photo by Kathleen]

Race stats:

Time: 6:41:27.8 (24/35 women 40-44, 140/200 women, 426/554 athletes)

2k Swim: 50:07.8 (2:30/100m) (27/35 women 40-44, 166/200 women, 464/554 athletes)

T1: 2:39 (includes pee break)

89k Bike: 3:00:47.6 (29.54 km/h) (22/35 women 40-44, 112/200 women, 394/554 athletes)

T2: 4:36 (includes pee break + sunscreen re-application)

1st 10.5k Run: 1:15:02 (7:08 min/km)(23/35 women 40-44, 127/200 women, 404/554 athletes)

2nd 10.5k Run: 1:28:17 (8:24 min/km) (24/35 women 40-44, 140/200 women, 426/554 athletes)

Total 21k Run: 2:43:18.7 (7:46 min/km) (24/35 women 40-44, 140/200 women, 426/554 athletes)


About to dig into a very rich chocolate cupcake to celebrate Irina’s birthday. [Photo by Alasdair]

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Modifications to my sled for winter backcountry camping

It might have been 35+ degrees Celsius this week with the humidity making it feel much hotter, but I was thinking of winter camping and modifying my sled!

Last winter I bought a Pelican sled and modified it for my very first winter backcountry camping trip.


My sled during my trip last winter.


If you’re interested, you can read my instructions on how to make a sled, and my review of the performance of the sled for a 4-day snowshoeing trip at Algonquin Provincial Park. The trip report is here.

During the trip, I realized that while I intended to buy rigid poles to avoid the sled whacking the back of my ankles, I somehow got the wrong poles and that is exactly what ended up happening, so I needed to replace the poles before my next trip. I also decided to add more points of attachment for bungees or straps to fasten a tarp on top of my precious cargo!

This afternoon, I bought what I needed and made the changes. First, I replaced the poles.


New poles on the left.

Then, I added 6 new points of attachment – one on each end, and 2 more on each side. Now I’ll have even more options for strapping things down.


Now sporting 6 additional points of attachment.

Can’t wait to use it again! (But I’m not yet ready for winter.)

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Race report: Guelph Lake II try-a-tri

This is part II of my triathlon double-header. Read part I here.

Earlier in the summer, Alasdair and I talked about the possibility of riding our bikes 45k to Guelph Lake to do the sprint triathlon relay, and then ride home after the race. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that riding 120k that day (since I would be riding 30k in the relay) might not be the best idea, in particular because I hadn’t ridden more than 60k at once lately, and because we’re doing the Barrelman 1/2 ironman in 2 weeks. So, last week I scrapped that idea and decided instead to do my first ever triathlon double-header: the sprint triathlon relay in the morning, and the try-a-tri in the afternoon. It would be my first time doing a try-a-tri since 2010 when I first started racing (I did the Milton try-a-tri first, then the Guelph Lake I try-a-tri before switching to sprints). I only told a few people and most said, “WHY?” Why not?

So after the sprint relay, I registered for the try-a-tri and got body marked again (the volunteer had to scratch out the 454 from our relay and add 1003 to my leg!). I needed to eat something, but wasn’t sure exactly what to eat that wouldn’t upset my stomach. I had a peanut butter sandwich and a banana during the sprint awards, and hoped that would do! I had moved my bike from the relay rack to the women aged 40-44 rack before the awards, so all I had to do was set my stuff up, and that didn’t take long.


All set up in the transition zone and ready to head to the lake for a short warm up swim.

375m Swim

With about 30 minutes to go before race time, I headed for the water to put my wetsuit on. Ailish showed me the awesome sign she made for me during the sprint relay!

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She zipped me up, and I went for a short warm-up swim. I was to be in the 3rd of 4 waves. Many of the athletes were first time triathletes, so I decided to line up in the front row of swimmers – I didn’t expect to be the fastest, but I was certainly more comfortable and confident than newbies!


That’s me about to dive into the water!

My strategy paid off, as I had very little congestion. I had a pretty good swim, and seemed to go straight. The buoys seemed so close – 375m is not very far! We swam out to a buoy, turned right, swam to the next buoy, turned right, and headed for shore. I swam until my hands started to hit the sand, got up and saw 9:30 on my watch – not bad! I walked a few steps then ran out of the water, across the sandy beach, and up the long hill, around the transition zone, and in. The run was longer than usual, because low water levels in the lake made the swim start further out than usual.

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Checking my swim time.

I had a bit of trouble getting my wetsuit off, and had to brush pebbles off my feet before putting my socks on (remember, we were set up on gravel). I grabbed my bike and off I went!

10k bike

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Heading out on the ride.

My goal was to ride as hard as I could and to see if I could maintain 30 km/h over 10k like I did over the 30k for the relay. I had trouble clipping my shoes in, but eventually got going. My legs felt tired and I pretty much knew right away that I wasn’t going to manage that pace. But I did what I could. I thought I passed a lot of people during the sprint relay, but I passed even more during the try-a-tri!


Finally clipped in!

Having just ridden the course in the morning (and then some), I knew exactly what to expect and the ride went pretty quickly. I had a stomach cramp for a while and figure it may have been the peanut butter sandwich. On the way back, climbing the last big hill, another athlete was riding down the hill on the other side of the road, completely out of control, wobbling this way and that, screaming over and over! I thought for sure that she was going to crash. I don’t remember now whether it was arms or legs flailing, but it was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen on a bike. When she passed me I turned back to make sure she was still upright – somehow, she was! She must have been absolutely terrified!

I reached the dismount line, and was a bit disappointed that I didn’t go as fast as I would have liked to. I didn’t actually know what my time was – I wasn’t paying really close attention. I was surprised to see that I was the first woman on the 40-44 rack to rack my bike (it was empty!). This meant that I was currently in 1st place. Two women arrived while I was still there. I removed my helmet, changed my shoes, and took off – I even decided to leave my hat, not wanting to lose any more time than necessary!

2.5k run

I was sure that I would be caught on the run, but apparently I started out at a pretty good pace – near the beginning, I heard Alasdair say, “Nice pace!” I wasn’t sure if he meant it or was trying to be encouraging! With every step, I expected to be passed by a woman with a 40, 41, 42, 43, or 44 or her leg. I wasn’t used to being in the lead – in fact, this was the first time ever! Shortly after beginning this run, I remembered why I hated running at Guelph Lake – it’s hilly! And of course close to 2 PM, it was hot! With such a short run, I tried to hold the pace I started with, but had no idea how I was doing – I wasn’t looking at the watch. I resigned myself to being passed by stronger runners, and just decided to do the best I could.  I passed an aid station but just ran right through – no stopping for water (or someone would surely pass me!). Before too long, I hit the turnaround, at which point I’d be able to see the people hot on my heels. I was surprised that they were all men! No women about to pass me. With about 200m to go, I heard the voices of 2 women, and resigned myself (once again) to finishing 3rd. They passed me, I looked at their legs, and saw 20-something! Still in the lead… I reached the last uphill, a spectator told me and other runners to push hard for the finish, I turned the corner, ran down the hill, and then was joined by Ailish as she ran part way down the hill with me. I couldn’t talk at that point! She later told me it was hard as she had to dart in and out of spectators. I crossed the finish line, and the announcer told everyone that KIRA had finished.


Very close to the finish line.

A volunteer took my timing chip, another gave me a finisher’s medal, and a third gave me a bottle of water. I found Alasdair and Ailish, and then this awesome fan blowing cold mist!


Loving the cool air spray through the fan.

Eventually Ailish and I went over to the results board, and someone from Sportstats put up 2 sheets of paper. I found my name, and saw that I was 1/32 women aged 40-44. I had won!!!

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Sharing the podium with the #1 male aged 40-44.


Race bling!

After getting my post-race food, we sat down in the shade and waited for the awards to start. An announcement was made that a 3 year old girl was missing, and for everyone to look out for her. 5-10 minutes later the crowd cheered when we were told that she had been found safe. The awards started, and before long I was called up as the winner of the women 40-44 category – how exciting!

It was a fun day!


With one of my #1 fans.


The race stats changed a little between the posted results at Guelph Lake and now. In any case, I still finished first!

Time: 50:23.4 (1/25 women aged 40-44, 8/141 women, 62/268 athletes)

375m Swim: 11:11.9 (2:59 min/100m – includes long run up to transition) (4/25 women 40-44, 34/141 women, 55/268 athletes)

T1: 2:12

10k Bike: 21:45.8 (27.57 km/h) (1/25 women 40-44, 8/141 women, 63/268 athletes)

T2: 1:27

2.5k Run: 13:47.6 (5:31 min/km) (3/25 women 40-44, 8/141 women, 62/268 athletes)


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Race report: Guelph Lake II sprint triathlon relay

This is part I of my triathlon double-header. Read part II here.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of doing a triathlon, but you’re too scared to jump right in, consider doing a relay with friends! Last year, Alasdair and I introduced our friend John to the world of triathlon when we invited him to do the Guelph Lake II relay with us as our runner. He was a new runner then, but was quick to say yes! He had a great time and agreed to do it again this year. So, Saturday morning we met at the Guelph Lake Conservation Area for our race, a 750m swim, 30k bike, and 7.5k run. Last year, I swam and Alasdair biked, but this year, he would swim while I biked and John ran. I knew I’d be slower than he was on the bike last year, but I wanted to see what I could do.

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Pre-race shot of team JAK’d: Alasdair (swim), me (bike), John (run). [Picture credit: Angela]

We registered, which included signing waivers and picking up our race bib, the timing chip, t-shirts and product samples, and got our stuff organized in transition. There is a specific bike rack assigned to relay racers. Despite doing the majority of our races this summer in the Multisport Canada Triathlon Series, there were lots of friendly faces at this race!

Our friend Jordan was doing the sprint as his very first triathlon – I will be forever grateful to him for practically begging me in spring 2000 (the day I met him at a co-ed soccer tournament in Dundas) to join the co-ed team he was playing on (they desperately needed more women) – it’s how I got to know Alasdair!


Pre-race shot with our friend Jordan, and a photobomb by his brother Geoff!

All relay teams would start in the 5th and final swim wave. I watched the swim start, then headed to the bathroom one last time, and back to the transition zone where John and I would wait for Alasdair. We spotted Jordan first, then eventually heard the announcer say that team JAK’d (John Alasdair Kyra) was on its way in to the transition zone. The timing chip on Alasdair’s ankle was read by a computer as he crossed a timing mat, popping up our team name on a screen that the announcer was reading.

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Alasdair on his way to the transition zone.

The transition zone was set up on a gravel lot this year, so the race organizers had put mats down for us to run on. Otherwise, Alasdair would have been treading gingerly to meet me at the bike rack! John took the timing chip off of Alasdair’s ankle and put it onto mine (which I adjusted quickly when I realized it was too high and might fall down and flop around). And then I was off!

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Heading for the bike mount line.

A great ride for me would be 30k in 60 minutes, or 30 km/h. I passed a ton of people on the bike, saying “on your left” over and over again. There was quite a bit of congestion on the bike, given that we started in the last swim wave. The pavement for the first 5k was quite rough. I had forgotten my watch, so I was wearing Alasdair’s, which he gave me after the swim. It was fun checking it to see my speed – my regular watch doesn’t have that ability.

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Near the beginning of the bike course.

At around the 10k mark I caught up to Jordan and passed him (woohoo!). The ride was pretty uneventful, other than the non-stop passing. I was really happy to see that I was maintaining a speed of 30 km/h! There are a couple of pretty significant hills on the course. When I reached the dismount line, I was at exactly 60 minutes, but by the time I ran over the timing mat, I lost my 30 km/h average! Ah well, I’m super happy with my ride. I entered the transition zone and started running to the bike rack. I was confused, because Alasdair and John weren’t there! What the heck? Where were they? I was looking all around the rack, and at all the other relay athletes watching for their riders coming back. I spotted them, and yelled “Alasdair! John!” — because Jordan headed out on the bike before me, they expected to see him return before me, and totally missed me ride past! Alasdair grabbed the timing chip off my leg, and was about to put it on John’s leg when another athlete told us not to do it before I had racked my bike. So I put my bike on the rack, then the chip went onto John’s leg, and off he went! Alasdair and I were able to catch up on our swim and bike legs (he was happy with his swim), and watch for other athletes coming in from the bike. We got to cheer for Jordan and see him go onto the run course. I went to use the bathroom, where I happened to run into Ailish! I hadn’t seen her since the race began, since she was reading in the shade under a tree down by the lake. She joined me and we watched the runners returning from the run course and down the last hill to the finish line. We spotted a couple of people I knew – Jordan’s brother Geoff, Kristin my new swim buddy – and then John! Alasdair ran the last little bit with him, peeling away just before the finish. Alasdair later ran Jordan to the finish too (he did great and is hooked!).


John runs the last 100m or so to the finish line.

John’s run was faster than last year – he too was pleased with his leg of the relay! In the end, we finished 11/25 relay teams (including 1 that was DQ’d and 1 that didn’t finish)! We placed better than we did last year, though our overall time was a bit slower (because of Alasdair’s super fast bike last year). It was a very fun morning, and I hope to race with team JAK’d again!


Time: 1:59:26.3 – 11/25 relay teams

750m swim (Alasdair): 17:37.2 (2:20 min/100m – includes long run up to transition) – 10/25 relay teams

30k bike (Kyra): 1:00:31.2 (29.74 km/h) – 10/25 relay teams

7.5k run (John): 38:57.9 (5:33 min/km) – 12/25 relay teams

Athletes were given subs, fruit, pita chips, granola bars, and gatorade after the race.  We stayed for most of the awards, but then we left. Normally we stay, but because I’m crazy, I decided a week ago to do my first ever triathlon double-header at Guelph Lake II – I was going to race in the try-a-tri in the afternoon, so I had to get ready! Stay tuned to see how that went after pushing my legs on the bike…

Version 2

Sporting our new finisher medals after the sprint relay.


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