It’s always fun to introduce friends to the sport of orienteering, and this year’s Stars W.A.R. put on by the Stars Orienteering Club gave me the opportunity to do just that. My friend Kris is an experienced trail runner, but orienteering was brand new to her. And since she had never run on snowshoes before, she practised in the weeks leading up to the race.
Fast forward to race day, and sadly, there wasn’t enough snow for snowshoes. Instead, there was ice in abundance, so we were ready with spikes for our shoes.
After we picked up our race maps, we sat down to plan our route. While orienteering was new to Kris, the setting for this race, Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, was not!
The race was to start with an optional matrix section, in which partners could split up to find the 6 controls faster. Kris was keen to try to find controls on her own, so we decided to separate. She would go for 2 that we thought would be easiest. We each had a very small map to carry with us, which essentially covered the bottom left corner of the big map. When we reached the lettered controls in the matrix, we were to punch our maps with manual punches. After finding 2 each, we would meet back at control 50 near the start/finish location, where we would hand in our little maps, pick up one more little map, and together find the remaining 2 controls in the matrix. After the matrix, we would try to find as many controls on the big map as we could – these varied in point value based on their level of difficulty, from 20 to 70 points. We highlighted our proposed route in yellow, and were ready to go.
Everyone assembled at the start, and when the race began, people ran in every direction! People without spikes on their shoes, or without good spikes, had trouble with the ice right off the bat and fell. I saw a couple of people have trouble on little hills on my way to my first control.
Kris beat me back to control 50, but said that had she not followed someone, she might not have found 1 of the 2 she was looking for. That’s okay – she’s just learning!
We handed in our 3rd little map, punched control 50, and set off to find as many as we could on our big map.
We had a little trouble with our first control, approaching a broken rock wall too far left (and therefore not seeing it at first). We backtracked to a trail, tried again, and when we found the wall, it was totally obvious that we were in the right spot! Kris had to slide down a steep hill on her backside because her spikes didn’t grip the ice well enough.
We had success finding the next 3 controls, with Kris commenting on the lack of other teams around us. It was almost like we were out for a run in the woods on our own.
We did have trouble with one control, because we unknowingly followed the wrong fence line, forcing us to bushwhack (with another team) through extremely dense forest, and then jump across a creek. It was in this section that we saw what Kris pointed out as being a wolf print!
When we came out into an opening (which we expected), we were a little confused because the fences on the map didn’t line up with what we were seeing in front of us. However, we pushed on, and as soon as we got close to the next control, which was sitting on a pile of rocks, we knew we weren’t at the one we intended to go for – we were looking for one in a little valley. In any case, we decided not to backtrack, and to get this one (which was to be our next one anyway) and keep going.
At one point, we startled a grouse (which in turn startled us!) – we heard its distinctive sound and saw it fly away.
After finding the last of our planned controls, we stood there briefly debating whether we should add one more – we figured we had time, so we headed for one at a ruined building. I didn’t want to regret not going for it and returning to the finish with lots of time to spare.
In the end, we reached the finish in 2:25:08, which wouldn’t have given us enough time to find any other controls. We actually did quite well estimating how many controls we could find in the allotted 2 1/2 hours, and therefore how far we could run in that time.
We covered 12.8k in that time, running (and walking!) on trails, roads, and off-trail through the forest.
Afterwards, racers were given a hot chili lunch, with lots of sweet and salty treats, and hot and cold drinks too. We had a great time. Thank you Stars!
Five days before the 3rd annual Dion Winter Goose Chase 7k Snowshoe Race, we finally had enough snow for me to get out on my snowshoes for the first time this winter! And very quickly, I remembered just how much more difficult it is to run with snowshoes compared to running without them.
The race is held at Shades Mills Conservation Area in Cambridge. There is a very small building for race registration, post-race food, and bathrooms – the number of participants is limited because of the venue size.
After a few trips to the bathroom, I got myself and my gear organized in the car, and then put my snowshoes on. A few people around me were strapping snowshoes on for the very first time – many people rented them from the race for just $10 (great way to try them out without investing in your own pair!). I gave a few people advice on where your foot should sit, how to tell the left snowshoe from the right one (mine are not interchangeable), and how to go uphill while wearing them.
We all headed down to the beach just before the 10:30 AM race start.
After a short pre-race briefing, the race began, and we all started chasing the goose and gander (last year’s female and male race winners). To be honest I completely forgot about them once the race began.
I loved seeing the chunks of snow flying in the air off the backs of runners’ snowshoes (see pic above). My plan was to run as much as I could, but to walk the steep uphills. I remembered from last year’s race that the biggest hill was at the very end!
By the time we crossed the beach and entered the woods, runners had spread out. In most parts of the race course, which followed trails through the conservation area, the path was wide enough to allow passing. I remember just one place where we were all running on tramped down trail with much deeper snow on the sides, so whoever was on my tail waited until we got out of that section to pass me.
I used the runners in front of me as pace setters, trying not to let them get away (but many did anyway). I followed a friend named Ted for a while, then when he stopped to adjust his snowshoes I had to find a new target to chase. I passed other friends Mauro and Lisa (who I met during an orienteering race!), and then didn’t see anyone I knew until the race was done.
It wasn’t too long into the race before I first encountered snow clumping on the cleats of my snowshoes. This tends to happen when the temperature warms up and the snow gets sticky. Clumped snow makes it feel like I’m running on top of a small ball, and my ankles don’t like it at all. I had to continually kick my foot hard into the ground to knock the clumps off. I didn’t see anyone else having the same issues – I wonder if, as a friend suggested, it might be the very aggressive cleat on the Atlas Run snowshoe that causes the problem. I may rent Dion snowshoes next year to try them out.
The course was described in the pre-race briefing as rolling hills – make no mistake, it’s a hilly course! It is also very pretty. We were lucky that there was enough snow for snowshoes, given our winter so far.
The course was very well marked, and the race volunteers were great, ensuring at key intersections that runners went the right way. After the last big hill, which is also the longest (one of those hills that just seems to go on and on and on), I could start to hear people cheering at the finish line.
For the last couple of kilometres, I had the same guy behind me, and I kept wondering when he would pass me. After this hill? Around this corner? On the straightaway to the finish? Nope, he never did.
I hit the finish line in 54:37, for an average pace of 8:28 min/km. I was happy with how my race had gone, despite the snow clumping.
Just past the finish line was a fire, which I enjoyed for a few minutes.
I changed into dry clothes in my car, and then headed inside for the best post-race food anywhere – a gourmet pancake breakfast! Not 1, not 2, but 3 types of pancakes (regular, gluten-free, and vegan!), blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, bananas, chocolate chips, Nutella, whip cream, fruit sauce, butter, maple syrup and maybe more! Coffee, hot chocolate, and tea too. What a spread put on by the Cambridge Harriers running club! Thank you!
Once again, I really enjoyed myself . Thank you Lisa and Greg for another great race. See you next year!
Random runner to me as I walked into Burlington Central High School, wearing my kilt with bare legs, at -8 degrees Celsius feeling like -17C with the windchill: “You are brave!” “Or crazy!” I replied. “Or something!” she said.
I was a little surprised that I didn’t see anyone else with a kilt and bare legs before the race. I only spotted two teenagers wearing shorts. I briefly questioned whether I was indeed crazy, but I quickly dismissed that idea. Or at least satisfied myself that while my legs were going to be cold, they would be fine!
After picking up my race bib and plaid pants, I had lots of time to join one bathroom lineup after another, listen to the bagpipers, and then head for the start line. Alasdair would be cheering me on from the sidelines this year.
With a bit of snow having fallen overnight, the ground was slushy and slippery in places. Given the footing, I wasn’t quite sure how long it would take me to run the 8k. I told Alasdair that I’d be somewhere between 45 and 50 minutes. I didn’t really have any specific time goals for this race.
The race began, and as expected, the ground was slushy in places. Until the crowd thinned out, it was hard to pass people without stepping off the beaten path and into the slush. I think I was 2k in before I had space to run wherever I wanted to, meaning that at times I weaved as I went where the better pavement was!
I know this course quite well, with the majority of it being flat.
There are a few slight inclines, but really only one hill, between 6k and 7k. Was it ever windy along Lakeshore Rd. when we reached the downtown businesses! There was blowing snow (and blowing kilts!). I like this section of the course the least – I’m not sure why, but it might be the hill!
I spotted Alasdair in the last 500m of the race, where I opted to run on the sidewalk part of the time, because it was clearer than the road (with the exception of the very snowy sideroads that I had to cross).
I rounded the last corner and pushed as hard as I could. In the end I crossed the finish line in 46:17.7, good for 24/87 women 40-44! I was super happy with my race.
Believe it or not, my legs were just fine!
We headed inside, where I had a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of hot chocolate, watched the awards, and then headed out.
Thank you Burlington Runners for another great race!
This year’s Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid became a Spike Raid when there wasn’t enough snow to warrant snowshoes. It was disappointing, but my race partner Rebecca and I were keen to try our Kahtoola microspikes with trail running shoes for the first time, so all was not lost! And it’s not as if it wasn’t cold enough for snow – at the start of the race, it was -20C or colder with the wind chill. Brrr! I filled my water bottle with boiling water in hopes that it wouldn’t freeze up during the race (it worked, but the water was ice cold by the end).
After spending the night at a local Airbnb, we arrived at
Blue Mountain (ski resort) with plenty of time to pick up our race maps and
instructions and plan our route. We received 1 map each, but learned that 1
hour into the 3 hour race, we could pick up a new map at the aid station, which
would include the original checkpoints plus additional ones. This made route
planning a little trickier, because while we knew that the 2nd map
would include 500 extra points (the original had 1,150), we had no idea where
the new checkpoints would be.
All checkpoints were either green (25 points), blue (50 points), black (75 points) or double black (100 points) depending on level of difficulty. Each team of 2 would have to start with an approximately 1k uphill climb to the first checkpoint, after which they could go in search of as few or as many checkpoints as they wished, in any order. In addition, there was a “matrix” section of the map, an area with 5 checkpoints in it, where teammates could split up to find them faster (you proved you found the checkpoint by using a manual punch to put holes in your map, as opposed to using an electronic chip for the rest of the race).
After the pre-race briefing, we all headed to the school buses that were waiting to take us to the start line, from where we would enter the Loree Forest, which surrounded Blue Mountain on the east, west and south sides.
When the race began, we started running, but our pace slowed as the hill got steeper, and we joined a long line of people walking up a narrowing path. There was a bit of a bottleneck, but I’m not sure I would have gone any faster without anyone in front of me, at least not until we got to the top, where some maneuvering around people and trees was required. Rebecca and I headed off to find a double black and two black controls, which we found, but it took longer than we expected it to – it was hillier than we anticipated. And boy was it ever hilly! To add to the fun, for some reason my compass was not working properly. The needle was jumping all over the place, which I’m assuming was the cold temperature wreaking havoc. Rebecca’s didn’t seem much better. Thankfully, we didn’t need them much!
Next we headed into the matrix section, where we split up. Rebecca was to do 2 controls, me the remaining 3, and then we would meet at the aid station within the matrix.
While running along the Bruce Trail at one point, a friend was running towards me when he did the gentlemanly thing and stepped off the hard packed snow to the side so I could pass by. What neither of us knew was that there was quite a drop, and he fell. He was fine, and as usual ended up kicking our butts. Thanks Chris. 🙂
When I reached the aid station, I didn’t see Rebecca, so I grabbed myself a cup of hot chocolate – just what I needed to warm up my lower lip so that I could speak properly again! There were also cookies and donuts, but I just had a few of Rebecca’s M&Ms when she turned up. We got our new maps, took a couple of minutes to discuss the new controls and slightly alter our route, and then headed out. We didn’t want to stop for long – we were getting cold!
We stuck to our original plan to head to the east from the matrix, but added a new blue control that wasn’t on the original map. We did a lot of trail running versus bushwhacking during this race, but we did have some stellar navigation using a big hill (no compass!) as our reference point in this section. Yay us.
Given the elapsed time, we knew we couldn’t go any further away from the finish at this point, so we started heading to the finish line, grabbing another black on our way. We decided that the last few controls near the finish – which we were planning to do “if we had time” (we never have time!) – were probably out of reach. However, with about 12 minutes to go we were running along a road seeing people coming out of the trees, and realized that one of the controls was actually very close to us. We decided that even if going for it put us slightly overtime, it would be worth it.
From there we ran to the finish, getting there with just under 2 minutes to spare (the penalty was -30 points per minute over the 3 hours). We ended up with 650 points.
In talking to others after the race, I realized that our race strategy might not have been the best. The first two controls we went for (after the mandatory first one) were pretty far for what they were worth. We might have earned more points trying to find more controls of lower value that weren’t so far away. As well, when we got the second map, we could have headed west instead of east, where there was a cluster of 3 blacks close together.
In any case, it was a fun race! We are always learning.
At the finish there was more hot chocolate and sweet treats, and buses waiting to take teams back to Blue Mountain, where we were provided with a hot lunch. After the awards, we headed home!
At some point last year, my husband Alasdair decided to run the entire Bruce Trail, so I thought it would be fun to take on the challenge too, knowing that it would take us several years, and that we would do some parts together, and some parts separately. We each downloaded the Bruce Trail app, and started tracking our runs.
What’s the Bruce Trail? According to the Bruce Trail Conservancy website, the Bruce Trail is “Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath. Running along the Niagara Escarpment in southern Ontario from Niagara to Tobermory, the Bruce Trail spans more than 890 km of main Trail and over 400 km of associated side trails.”
There are 9 sections of the trail. I live in the Iroquoia section just 2 km from the trail – lucky me! You can learn more about all the sections here:
I was strictly a road runner until a couple of years ago when I started orienteering, which got me running on and off trail looking for controls (checkpoints) in the woods. However, it wasn’t until I started this end to end goal that I became a regular trail runner! I love it. It is so much more peaceful than running on the road, and way more scenic. I’m hooked.
I had previously hiked many different short bits of the trail over the years, but I’ve been enjoying rediscovering sections that I’ve been on before, and running on sections that are completely new to me. So far, I love the waterfalls along the trail the most.
As the parts of the trail that I need to cover get further and further away from home, things will get more complicated, and will definitely require some overnight trips. For now though, I’ve started close to home!
Started the Iroquoia section: October 27, 2018
Finished the Iroquoia section: December 26, 2018
Note: While I completed the Iroquoia section, the part of the trail that runs through Kelso Conservation Area in Milton was closed, so I ran the rerouted section along Appleby Line instead. I’ll go back in the spring to do the Kelso section.
October 27, 2018 – Rockcliffe Road, Waterdown to Borer’s Falls, Dundas – 14.3k
October 28, 2018 – Rockcliffe Road, Waterdown to Grindstone Falls, Waterdown – 5.7k
November 2, 2018 – Borer’s Falls, Dundas to Davidson Boulevard, Dundas (with a side trip to Tews Falls) – 22k
November 4, 2018 – Mount Nemo/Walker’s Line, Burlington to No. 8 Sideroad, Burlington – 10.8k
November 14, 2018 – Grindstone Falls, Waterdown to Highway 5, Burlington – 12.4k
November 24, 2018 – Highway 5, Burlington to Mount Nemo/Walker’s Line, Burlington – 10.2k
December 1, 2018 – No. 8 Sideroad, Burlington to Crawford Lake, Milton – 11.8k
December 8, 2018 – Crawford Lake, Milton to Hilton Falls, Milton – 13k (northern end of the Iroquoia section)
December 14 – Davidson Boulevard, Dundas to Filman Road, Ancaster – 12k
December 16, 2018 – Filman Road, Ancaster to King’s Forest Golf Course, Hamilton – 16.2k
December 22, 2018 – King’s Forest Golf Course, Hamilton to Millen Road, Stoney Creek – 19.5k
December 26, 2018 – Millen Road, Stoney Creek to Elm Street, Grimsby – 19.7k (southern end of the Iroquoia section)
# runs: 12
# solo runs: 5
# runs with my husband Alasdair: 6
# runs with friends: 1 (Laura – yay to having similar running paces!)
shortest run: 5.7k
longest run: 22k
average length of run: 14k
Hardest section to run: between Millen Road in Stoney Creek and Elm Street in Grimsby, because of the abundance of wet and loose rocks
Most waterfalls: between King’s Forest Golf Course in Hamilton and Millen Road in Stoney Creek – Albion Falls, Buttermilk Falls, Felkers Falls, and the Devil’s Punchbowl
Most scenic: see most waterfalls!
Scariest moment: while running through the Royal Botanical Gardens in Dundas, I encountered an illegal hunter in full camouflage carrying a bow and arrow, standing just off the trail and looking down the hill into the woods – I said to him, “Whatever you do, please don’t shoot me!” to which he replied, “I won’t.” (I made a report to the police, the Ministry of Natural Resources, and through a friend, to the RBG.)
Wildlife sightings: 2 close-up raccoons (separate runs), and a salamander at Crawford Lake, which my husband nearly stepped on as he ran – we placed it gently in mud close to a log, covered it in leaves, and wished it well!
Favourite run: the waterfall run!
Most memorable encounter with other hikers/runners: a little girl hiking with her parents, who said as I passed, “She runs so FAST!”; a couple carrying pruning shears and a saw to do trail maintenance; the hunter
In the days leading up to this race, I had no idea I’d be criss-crossing a half-pipe multiple times with a chilly creek crossing in the middle! But how would I? The race location is top secret until race day (though I did try my best to piece together the picture teasers as they were posted on Facebook).
A last minute change meant that our team of 3 became a team of 2 for this year’s Don’t Get Lost Raid the Hammer Adventure Race. This would be our 3rd time doing the race, and on home soil to boot!
At registration we were each given 2 maps and a sheet of race instructions, which set out everything we needed to know about the race. We would pick up a 3rd map out on the race course.
This was a point to point race with 3 distinct sections:
a matrix, where team members could split up to find the 6 checkpoints faster, which could be found in any order;
12 mandatory checkpoints found in order from 1 to 12; and
a matrix, where team members could again split up to find the 4 checkpoints, and in any order.
As this race was held on Remembrance Day, we had a moment of silence before boarding busses to the start line. From the Veterans Affairs Canada website:
Every year on November 11, Canadians pause in a silent moment of remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace. We honour those who fought for Canada in the First World War (1914-1918), the Second World War (1939-1945), and the Korean War (1950-1953), as well as those who have served since then. More than 2.3 million Canadians have served our country in this way, and more than 118,000 have died. They gave their lives and their futures so that we may live in peace.
The race began at Hidden Valley Park in Burlington, a small park with a couple of playgrounds and some trails in the woods. Earlier this fall, I saw salmon swimming upstream in the creek that runs through the park.
On Patrick’s countdown, the race began! Rebecca and I had decided to split up in the matrix, with her doing a little more running for 3 checkpoints that we thought would be easier to find (D, E, F). It turns out they were all pretty easy, partly because we were never the only ones searching for them, but also because the park is so small and the navigation just wasn’t too difficult.
I found my 3, then ran to a pavilion to wait for Rebecca so we could show our punched maps to Patrick, proving that we had been to each checkpoint. We punched checkpoint 1 (at the pavilion), then headed for the road that would take us onto the second map.
This next part of the race course required us to cross Grindstone Creek in between each checkpoint. Between checkpoints 1 and 2 we used a bridge, but after that, we bit the bullet and got wet feet. And boy was the water ever cold!!! We learned that indecision after a creek crossing was a bad thing – that’s when our feet froze. As long as we kept moving, they warmed up pretty quickly!
Also in this section were hills, hills and more hills! From a checkpoint high on a hill, we would descend, cross the creek, then climb a hill on the other side.
At checkpoint 6 there was an aid station with sweet and salty goodies, and a gear check, where we had to show that we were carrying an emergency blanket.
After checkpoint 9 there were no more creek crossings. At checkpoint 10, which was just before we crossed the railroad tracks and entered Black’s Forest (the trails south of Walmart and Grindstone Way in Waterdown), we received the 3rd map, which we needed to get back to the high school.
There are tons of trails in this area, but they don’t necessarily go the way you want to go. We did a lot of trail hopping to get from 10 to 11, 11 to 12, and then 12 to 13. After this point, we could split up again and find the 4 remaining checkpoints. I know this part of Waterdown very well, so I only needed to look once on the map to see where the checkpoints were, then didn’t need to look again (I knew the spots).
These checkpoints had questions that we had to answer, rather than inserting our SI card into a chip reader. For example, one asked for the last name of Charlotte, whose name was on a park bench. When I reached my 2nd and last control in this section, I encountered another woman at the same hydro pole trying to answer the same question. “Final digit on the power pole (5485)” shouldn’t be that hard. But it was a multiple choice question, and the number we saw on the pole wasn’t an option on the sheet. We figured it was a typo, and headed back to the high school. Sadly, we later found out that we were looking at the wrong pole! We had been looking at 54856, when we should have been looking at the pole across the street, 54855! This meant a 15 minute time penalty for our team.
Rebecca had no trouble with her checkpoints, and was waiting for me at the high school. We punched the finish line checkpoint, and headed inside to download our results onto the Don’t Get Lost computer. In 3:31:53 we covered a little over 17k, and found all of the checkpoints.
We enjoyed a hot lunch from a food truck, included in our race entry fee.
Despite my mess up on the last checkpoint, we had a great race! My legs were slightly tired from my 25k race the day before (!) but held up better than I expected!
We’ll be back – next year, the full Raid!
Race results for team Define Lost:
As a friend said to me the other day, “Do too many trail and adventure races and you will never go back to the road”. I’m most definitely hooked. I did my very first pure trail race in the spring of 2017, the Sulphur Springs 10k (as opposed to an adventure race with a trail running component, or an orienteering race in the woods). Then this spring I stepped it up and did the 5 Peaks Kelso trail half marathon. So when I searched for a fall trail race, The Beav 25k trail race at Hilton Falls Conservation Area put on by Happy Trails Racing looked enticing! Good thing I registered when I did, because this brand new race sold out long before race day!
I hadn’t been to Hilton Falls in years, so I did a couple of my training runs there. The rest were on the Bruce Trail in the Dundas to Burlington area – varied terrain, but lots of hills and challenging rocky uneven ground. I figured it would be great training for Hilton Falls.
On race morning there was snow and ice on the ground, and a temperature of -13C with the windchill. I worried that if I had to stop and walk I would freeze dressed as I normally would for running at that temperature, so I added another layer.
I knew 5-10 people running the race, so I was pretty sure I would see some friendly faces as I ran.
At 9:30 AM the race began. It wasn’t too long before I was on a single track trail, going the pace of the person directly in front of me. It was a slow pace, no faster than a walk at times, and I heard one woman comment, “I could do this pace!” This big pack of runners continued pretty much until we climbed the steepest part of the course, and then things spread out. At this point, I was already overheating so I took my extra layer off. I should have dressed as I always do in that temperature! I ran for a couple of km’s with triathlon friends, then continued on my own.
I was careful as I ran over rocks and bridges, because icy conditions had “wipe-out” written all over the place. Amazingly I stayed upright and only kicked one root or rock the entire race!
I hit the first aid station at 4.5k, and the second just before 8k. They were well stocked with cookies and salty goodies of all kinds. I loved the reusable cups for water, which I made use of to wash down my Endurance Tap. I grabbed a small handful of M&Ms and learned the hard way that they are a bit hard to get through without water – I felt like I had chocolate and candy coating stuck in my teeth for a while! At this point, runners headed off for 9k of trails before returning to the same aid station.
Photos by Chris L, fan extraordinaire:
During some parts of the race, there was 2-way traffic, so I got to see many of the people I knew in the race, and many other familiar faces that I have seen at other races. I’ve never been in a race where so many people said, “way to go!”, “great job!”, “nice work!” etc. Trail runners are very friendly and encouraging people! I even got a mid-race high five from a random runner.
At times I was running completely alone – I couldn’t see a soul ahead of me, or hear anyone behind me. It was very peaceful and pretty in the forest.
Just before I hit the aid station after the 9k loop (and after about 17k of running), I had another Endurance Tap, and washed it down with water. I decided to try my first ever mid-race pickle. I grabbed a few chips, chatted with a volunteer and Jeff one of the race directors, who told us that the “worst was behind us” (except for what was in front of us). I headed out, running for a few km’s with a man whose name I didn’t get.
I liked that the race felt like it was split into different segments. Mentally it was easier to deal with 25k this way.
After I left the aid station, I knew I would reach another one in just a few more km’s. At 20k my stomach was very unhappy for a short time, so sadly when I reached the last aid station, I opted out of eating a s’more prepared by the awesome volunteers at a fire near the falls. I continued running after grabbing some water, and it wasn’t long before my stomach was fine again.
My hamstrings and calves were starting to feel a little bit tight, but I wasn’t concerned.
At around 24k or so, I had to climb a stile (ladder over a fence). I played it safe by descending it backwards on the other side of the fence! Then I ran the final few hundred metres to the finish line, crossing in a time of 3:15:13.
I had a great first 25k trail race experience. I even ran a little faster than I expected to. The race was super well organized, the course was very well marked, and the volunteers (standing around in the cold for us) were fantastic!
Thank you Happy Trails Racing. I’ll be back!
My friend Cheryl and I headed to Killarney Provincial Park at the end of September with high hopes for our 8-day canoe trip starting at the George Lake access point, where we would paddle a route that included many new-to-me lakes. Cheryl and I had previously started a trip at this access point, but that was our 8-day, 90k hike of the entire La Cloche Silhouette Trail – we had never paddled in George Lake!
Day 1: George Lake to Freeland Lake to Killarney Lake
We were on the water by 2:30 PM, on a day that was rainy, foggy, and cool (high of 15C?). Nevertheless, the scenery was beautiful. We started out with Cheryl in the stern of her canoe, and me in the bow, but we would change that up over the course of the trip, sharing the power and steering responsibilities. We also shared the navigation, with me using my new Unlostify map, and Cheryl using the official park map.
Our first portage of the trip was a very short 50m into Freeland Lake, so we decided to carry the packs, and then go back for the canoe. However, our goal for the trip was to single carry (i.e. carry everything at once) all portages except for the tiniest ones, something we had never managed to do on a trip together before. In fact, I had never single carried on any canoe trip, but with a 3km portage on this one, it was a necessity!!
We paddled through Freeland Lake and then portaged 430m into Killarney Lake, where we would stay the night. We didn’t have our eyes on a specific site, but we hoped to be fairly close to the portage to Threenarrows Lake, which we would tackle the next morning. As it turned out, we passed 2 unoccupied sites and then several occupied ones, which made us wonder whether we should backtrack to one of the empty ones we had seen, or go further and hope that there was a site available and we wouldn’t have to paddle all the way back later. We pushed on, paddling against the wind, and were relieved to find that site #24 was free! Phew. It had been raining all day long, and our wildlife sightings for the day included only a single frog!
We set up our campsite, putting up a 2-man tent, a small tarp for a dining shelter, and throwing a rope over a tree branch for our bear bag. This would be our routine when we reached each campsite. Then we boiled water for hot chocolate, added Baileys to it, and enjoyed a yummy energy square alongside it. Later we ate “Thanksgiving on the Trail” (essentially dehydrated chicken, with stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries and gravy) before climbing into the tent for the night.
Overnight, there were thunderstorms for more than 4 hours, but we were fortunate in that the thunder and lightning never came close (though the rain did!).
Distance paddled: 7.96 km
Distance portaged: 50m + 430m
Day 2: Killarney Lake to Threenarrows Lake
After a cup of gatorade, mug of tea, and bowl of hot cereal, we packed up our campsite and set off for the 3k portage to Threenarrows Lake. We had no idea how eventful our day would be!
It was a short 700m paddle to get to the portage. According to the time estimates on my Unlostify map, the portage would take us 2 hours if we single carried (we assumed that we were “typical” paddlers, not “relaxing” or “speedy” ones). This would mean that the person carrying the canoe would take the lighter pack, and the other person would take the heavier one (an uncomfortable, non-ergonomic canoe pack) plus the paddles and my camelbak.
Getting ready for 3k portage.
Taking a break on the 3k portage.
Cheryl took the canoe and her backpack, knowing that I was willing to switch part way if need be. We had already decided before we started walking that we would definitely be taking a few breaks along the way! This portage starts with a steep uphill, but then isn’t too bad really. It had streams, rocks, hills, slippery sections, creek crossings and tree obstacles to navigate. And there was rain at times. And thunder. We stopped two times for a few minutes to free ourselves from the packs and boat, and then continued on our way. At one point, Cheryl slipped and fell on a wet rock, but thankfully, she was not injured (she even managed to hold onto the boat). At the end of the portage, there is a short paddle across a small lake before another 430m portage! But once we were done the second one, we were into Killarney Lake…and facing a paddle into the wind…and whitecaps!
At this point, I was in the stern. We approached a narrowing of the lake and felt the wind increase in strength. The waves were big, and the wind was pushing the bow to the right. We had hoped to go through the channel and head left. We paddled as hard as we could, but we could not turn the bow dead straight or to the left. The waves were hitting us broadside and the canoe was rocking. I briefly considered letting us get blown to the right shore where there was a bit of an eddy, and trying again to go through the channel. Instead, we allowed ourselves to float backwards, and decided to paddle hard (from a spot with less wind/waves) back to the left and into an eddy there, where we could regroup and decide on our next steps. We did not want to flip!! One idea was to make the little peninsula our campsite for the night (we wondered if it might even be the campsite we were looking for). Cheryl got out of the boat and scouted out the peninsula. She proposed that we portage our stuff over it to the other side, where there was a calm area for us to get back into the canoe and paddle around the left corner to the campsite (she had found it – but it wasn’t on the peninsula). We agreed that if we couldn’t paddle around the corner to the left (into the wind), we would instead turn the boat and ride the waves to another campsite on the other side (a different part of the lake).
Thankfully, we had no trouble paddling around the point (we weren’t trying to fight our way through a narrow channel), and so we landed the canoe at the campsite and were grateful to be done paddling for the day. I’ve never been defeated by wind and waves before! We later saw three guys in a canoe make it through the channel, none of them wearing lifejackets!
After setting up our campsite and hanging some things to dry, we sat down to have a snack, and were amazed at all the little bits of vegetation that were being pelted at us by the wind! Small boughs were flying, as were little bits like twigs. The wind was something else! We kept our eyes peeled for trees about to fall. Thankfully, none did at our site. Later in the trip, we saw many huge trees freshly fallen, both on campsites and on portages. It wasn’t until our trip was done and we were back at the George Lake office that we heard from a Park Ranger about a tornado in Ottawa that same day!!
We “swam” to feel somewhat clean again, but the water was cold and air temperature not really conducive to warming up post-swim, so we just went in part way and splashed ourselves!
The first time I opened the thunderbox lid, a salamander ran across the seat and fell inside! I apologized and hoped I wasn’t peeing on it.
At some point, Cheryl spotted a glove sticking up from the ground, and was very relieved to not find a body with it!
Distance paddled: 1.35 km
Distance portaged: 3110m + 400m
Day 3: Threenarrows Lake
We had planned to stay 3 nights on Threenarrows Lake, but hadn’t decided before the trip began whether we would change campsites every night, or stay put. Based on weather forecasts from my Garmin InReach (which communicates using satellites – no cell signal required), it looked like Day 3 would be a better weather day than Day 4, so we decided to travel on Day 3 to a different campsite – and get ourselves closer to the west end of the lake, so that we would have less distance to travel when we started moving again. This turned out to be our sunniest day of the whole trip.
We slept in, and weren’t on the water until 11:30 AM. We headed west for site 45, then paddled in an upside down U shape, finally reaching site 46, which we briefly considered taking. But we decided to continue paddling against the wind (the majority of the trip, we paddled against the wind!), and to hopefully be able to stay on site 47 or 48. We were in luck! Both were empty, so we took site 48, the closest one to “the Pig” – the steepest portage in the park, which we would tackle on Day 5. We decided that Day 4 would be a “stay put” day.
But before we reached our campsite for the night, we had an interesting encounter with a float plane! We were in the water near site H21 (a backpacking site) having a snack when Cheryl noted that a float plane seemed to be coming straight for us. In fact it did land in the lake, and proceeded to zoom past us through a narrow channel that we would soon be paddling in. Once we got around the corner, we saw that it was at a cabin – it had either dropped people or stuff (or both) off. We watched it take off again (safely out of its way) before we started paddling.
Before setting up our campsite, we ate lunch on the rocks by the shore, and tried to warm our feet in the sun at the same time! Then we set the campsite up, and gathered wood for a fire.
I used my stick stove to boil water for hot chocolate, and then we built a fire to make pizzas. They were delicious, with pepperoni, bacon, cheese, pineapple, peppers, broccoli, mushrooms and onions. YUM!
We saw a beaver swim by our site while we were sitting at the water’s edge, but didn’t see any people all day long!
After getting ready for bed, I climbed into the tent. Cheryl was part-way to the thunderbox when I heard a screech, a howl, and then the unmistakeable sound of a Barred Owl. I yelled to Cheryl, “You okay out there?” She was. We still don’t know what happened – had it been me, I would not have continued on to the bathroom on my own! We heard Barred Owls again multiple times that evening and overnight, but it never sounded as close as it did the first time.
Distance paddled: 8.73 km
Distance portaged: 0 km
Day 4: Threenarrows Lake
Since we weren’t changing campsites on Day 4, and it was quite cool out (down to 3C with the windchill according to my InReach!), we decided to go for a walk after breakfast to stay warm. We stuck close to the shore and headed in the direction of the Pig. We picked a path through the woods, climbing over branches, under tree limbs, around bushes etc. for about a kilometre. Then we turned back. Just before reaching our campsite I spotted a jaw bone on the forest floor. I’m not sure what animal it belonged to.
We had a snack, then started a fire to try to warm up. It was too cold to just stand around. Unfortunately, it was too windy to get much heat from the fire. We couldn’t sit too close to it for fear of embers burning our clothes – unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to me. I felt something burning my leg, and brushed the ember off my rain pants, but not before a small hole was burned into them. My pants underneath didn’t get burned, but now sport a small white patch.
We had mugs of hot water to drink (I was rationing the hot chocolate, and didn’t feel like tea), and then went into the woods to have lunch, where it was a little more sheltered from the wind. We sat against big trees for backrests, facing the thunderbox just a few metres away. Not exactly scenic.
We then climbed into the tent to try to get warm. Despite being inside my sleeping bag and wearing a winter hat and gloves, I was still cold! I wondered if I would be cold in the night (I had packed my summer sleeping bag, not realizing the temperature was going to drop so much).
It was in the tent that we first started talking about the possibility of shortening our trip, because the weather forecast looked bleak – 80% chance of heavy rain for the last couple of days of our trip, and continuing cool temperatures. We studied our maps and tried to figure out how we could change our route. We didn’t want to stay on lakes that we hadn’t reserved, because that may mean someone with a reservation wouldn’t be able to find a site. This is more of a problem on small lakes – on large lakes, provincial parks often leave a few sites unreserved. Thankfully, I had my InReach, so what ensued was a 4 hour+ confusing text conversation with my husband, to see if he could change our route. Messages were being sent or received out of order, so it was funny at times (and frustrating). I learned my lesson: start each text with a time stamp! The Ontario Parks reservation line told Alasdair that once we started our trip we couldn’t change our route, but when he called the park directly, the Park Ranger was very helpful and got us the lakes we wanted!
At some point during this conversation we forced ourselves out of the tent to make dinner (as Cheryl would say, the answer to the question, “Should we go in the tent?” is always no… because if you do go in, you never want to leave!). After dinner, we climbed back into the tent for the night! Once we knew that our reservation had been changed, we could go to sleep!
Distance portaged: 0 km
Distance hiked: 1.95 km
Day 5: Threenarrows Lake to Artist Lake to Muriel Lake to O.S.A. Lake
After packing up our campsite, we set out for the Pig, a short paddle away. We had walked this portage before, when we hiked the full length of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail, but I’m pretty sure at that time we were glad we weren’t carrying a canoe!
We decided that I would wear Cheryl’s pack and carry the canoe, but as soon as I got the canoe up, I realized there was a problem – I couldn’t tilt the canoe back, which meant I could only see the ground immediately in front of my feet. I walked for a short time like that, then realized it just wouldn’t work! Turns out with our slight height difference, or maybe just how the pack sits on me, it was too high, preventing the canoe from pivoting. Cheryl removed everything from the top of the pack, put it into hers, and bingo! I could walk and tilt the canoe and see in front of me! Kind of important if you don’t want to walk into big rocks, trees (!) or people.
When walking this portage, you essentially climb the first half, then descend the second half. The ground is rocky – small and large rocks – uneven, wet in places, and very steep! The pictures don’t quite do it justice. I took a break part-way down, and then stopped again before reaching the end and turning to start the 650m portage to Artist Lake!
We paddled through Artist Lake, where we reached a small waterfall at the other end. We decided to carry the packs first (140m), then return for the canoe. But we didn’t walk far before we realized that we couldn’t possibly be on the portage, despite having walked on a well worn path. It ended, and we were forced to cross the creek. We continued along the other bank, but it too seemed like a very weird portage. And the end was a steep climb up a bank. We wondered how we’d manage with the canoe. We realized that we must have missed the portage, and in fact, we did. We found the portage sign at the end and it directed us a different way. We hadn’t seen a portage sign when we arrived at the waterfall, but we weren’t surprised – not all portages seemed to be marked.
From here we paddled a very short distance to another short portage, which would take us into Muriel Lake.
We paddled through Muriel Lake, did yet another portage, and then found ourselves on the shore of O.S.A. Lake – the sun had come out, but so had the wind! And you guessed it, we would be paddling against the wind as we tried to find a campsite. There were 4 campsites on the west side of the lake (where we were), and only 1 on the east side. We wanted to stay at the east side if we could, because then we’d have less distance to travel the next day, but we also didn’t want to paddle the entire way across the lake only to find that the site was taken! We stopped at one of the island sites and almost decided to stay – there were whitecaps on the lake and we were pretty much done with fighting wind for the day. But, we checked the weather, and the winds were expected to be the same in the morning, plus rain, so we decided to go for it and hope that the site across the lake was empty! As we paddled across, the whitecaps continued and a couple of times the waves broke over the bow of the boat. As we got closer to the site, we saw something that looked like a canoe… we hoped that it wasn’t. Eventually, we could see that it was a rock. Phew. We arrived at the site, couldn’t see a canoe, tent, or person, and said, “Hello?” No response. We had a site!
This was our most scenic site of the trip, with a view of the mountains across the lake. It also had 2 private beaches, one on either side of the site. After setting up I made us some Baileys hot chocolate, and then we sat on the rocks at the shore planning future Killarney canoe trips! We made really yummy egg wraps for dinner, which also had tons of veggies, bacon, cheese, and salsa. As we were eating, the wind was blowing dark clouds in, so we made sure we were ready for the oncoming rain. We had already made ourselves an awesome kitchen shelter, complete with backrests!
It turns out we were in the tent for the night before the rain came.
Day 6: O.S.A. Lake to Killarney Lake to Freeland Lake to George Lake
We awoke to more rain on our last day. We cooked our breakfast and ate it under our kitchen shelter, then packed as much as we could under the tarp. Then it was time to finish packing the tent and tarp, and set out for the last time.
We had two options for portaging into Killarney Lake, and we chose the one with a shorter portage plus a beaver dam lift-over (rather than the one with the longer portage).
We encountered a few canoes as we headed out, and then a large group of about 10 canoes of students near the end. We had two portages to tackle on our last day, one into Freeland Lake and then one into George Lake. We were travelling at a similar pace of two men that we had met a few days earlier, so we chatted with them for a bit at one of the portages. They made me want to go paddle in Alaska! While we had very few wildlife encounters this trip, they saw 2 wolves, a bear, moose, otters and some kind of weasel! They highly recommended that we paddle the more northerly parts of the park.
It rained off and on while we paddled, but when we arrived at the George Lake access point, it had stopped. It wasn’t the weather or trip we had hoped for, but we still enjoyed ourselves!
After the canoe was back on the vehicle and all our stuff was packed away, we headed to the park office to get a refund for the nights we wouldn’t stay at Killarney. That’s when we heard about the crazy wind storm that blew through the campground the same day we were being pelted in the face with tree bits. Apparently the campground and office lost power for 60 hours, and downed trees in campsites meant that park staff had to cut them so that cars could be freed from campsites.
Once we left the park, we headed to the town of Killarney for fish and chips at Herberts Fisheries. I had never been to the town, but Cheryl had. We walked into the building and who did we see but Mike Ranta, a modern day canoe explorer (he has paddled across the country by canoe – with his dog Spitzy). He plans to do it again to raise awareness for Canadian vets. We enjoyed our fish and chips, then headed home.
Killarney, we’ll be back!
The 2018 edition of the Barrelman 1/2 Ironman was to be the 5th running of this race, and my 5th year participating (last year I did the swim/bike due to a foot injury).
Alasdair and I arrived at T1 in Welland at the International Flatwater Centre in time for the 12 PM pre-race briefing, then registered and left our bikes, and headed to Niagara Falls, where we would spend the night.
We arranged all our gear, and set our alarms for 5 AM!
We wandered around Niagara Falls a bit, had yummy pizza for dinner, and called it a night!
On race morning, we caught the race shuttle bus from Niagara Falls to Welland, leaving our car close to the finish line. We arrived at T1 with lots of time to set our things up and chat with other athletes.
Alasdair and I were in the same wave, and while I would have loved to draft off of him the whole way, I knew that I wasn’t fast enough to do so! He started near the front, and me further behind. I didn’t know when I would see him again on the race course.
The swim start was quite congested, and not too far into the swim, I was kicked in the face. Thankfully, my goggles stayed on. I let the fast people go by, and then I swam over to the guy wire (that holds the rowing buoys in place), and used that to swim straight. It meant that I didn’t have to look up to sight, at least not until I got closer to the halfway point, when I had to swim off the guy wire to the green turning buoy. By this point, I really had to pee, but instead of doing so in the water, I suffered until the transition zone! (I did pause a few times, but would have had to swim out of the way so as not to have people swim into me. I have not yet mastered the skill of peeing while swimming!)
I wasn’t surprised to see 50+ minutes when I stood up at the end of the swim.
At my spot in the transition zone, I packed up my swim stuff, put my cycling things on, slathered more sunscreen all over myself, and took off for the mount line.
This year there were changes to the bike course due to road construction. It meant for the addition of a pretty section before we reached Lake Erie. It was in this newer section that I came upon a cyclist down in the middle of the road. Other athletes were helping him, and I confirmed with them that an athlete riding the opposite way was going for help, then continued on my way.
During the ride I managed to eat a piece of homemade chocolate chip banana bread and 2 gels (I had to force the second one down), and to drink 1 bottle of gatorade and 2 full bottles of water.
Turtle count on Feeder Road this year = only 2! At one point along Feeder Road I was cruising along at 34 km/h, which meant just one thing – I would encounter a headwind when I turned toward the East!
At the first bike aid station, I stopped quickly to use the portapotty (“You almost done in there?” a man asked. “I’m peeing as fast as I can!” I replied.) I threw my empty gatorade bottle, grabbed a water bottle, and then tried to grab an Endurance Tap gel from a volunteer but the transfer didn’t work and it fell. Another volunteer ran to try to catch me, but I told him not to worry! At 60k I threw my water bottle and got another one, but forgot to grab another Endurance Tap gel.
Around the 75k mark, I started to have stomach issues, but I managed to keep riding without having to drop my speed too much. From just after 75k to the end the course goes along the Niagara River Parkway, making the ride quite scenic!
Once I reached the transition zone (T2), volunteers told me where to find my bike (though I had looked at the map pre-race and knew where to go). I switched into running gear, slathered more sunscreen on myself, used the portapotty quickly, and headed onto the run course.
Unfortunately my stomach was still bothering me, so I started the run by walking… but it wasn’t too long before I could start running. I carried an Endurance Tap with me, and had it just before the first aid station. It felt like 35C with the humidity, so my run quickly became a run/walk combo. I stopped at every aid station to drink water, get ice, occasionally have F2C (electrolyte drink), and pour water on my head. My legs were fine – it was just so darn hot. I chatted with a couple of other women for a while as we walked and encouraged one another.
I spotted Alasdair, who was having hip issues and had to do a run/walk combo too.
On the second loop, there was slightly more cloud cover, which was a huge relief! I had a couple of gels during the run, as well as pretzels at one point (but I needed water to wash them down – my mouth was too dry to chew and swallow them!). Overall the run was quite disappointing, but given the heat and humidity, I was not surprised – I’ve been through this before!
In the end, I crossed the finish line in 7:12:01.1, slower than I would have liked, but that’s how things go! I spotted Alasdair, and shortly afterward headed for the splash pad where I soaked myself – what a great end!
While Alasdair and I have done a few sprint triathlon relays before, this was our first with our daughter, who is finally old enough to do one leg of a sprint distance race.
Team Triathalasaurus was ready: Alasdair would swim 750m, I would bike 20k, and Ailish would run 5k. Never mind the fact that she was sick with a cold, and had only done one training run. She’s a fit kid with a summer of soccer behind her.
After a late arrival at the race site and somewhat frantic pre-race preparations, the horn sounded and Alasdair took off in wave #1 with the young’uns!
Ailish and I waited in the transition zone, and waved him down as he entered, since he didn’t get a chance before the race to see where my bike was racked. I struggled to get the timing chip off his ankle, but eventually succeeded, running my bike to the mount line, being cheered as I ran by at least one of the other relay teams.
I reached the mount line and a volunteer yelled, “Great job!” to which I replied, “Thanks! I haven’t done anything yet!” This was my first time biking with people in the first wave of a triathlon, so it was definitely weird. The first few people who passed me just zoomed past – whoosh! I was actually a little worried that I would get in the way of people at corners, since I brake slightly before turning! I needn’t have worried – much.
After rough road at the start, the course turned straight into the wind and hills, which immediately dashed my hope of maintaining 30 km/h, but I was still going to try. When I reached the turnaround, there were 33 riders ahead of me, when normally there would be hundreds and I couldn’t possibly keep track.
I was a little surprised to have someone say “On your left!” as I was doing a 180 degree turn around the pylon at the turnaround point. I’m not sure if he actually intended to pass me at that point (crazy), or whether he was just giving me advance warning that as soon as I came out of my turn, he was going to pass me (reasonable!). In any case, we both made it around the cone safely.
The last 5-7k were my favourite, because I had the wind behind me and it was a net downhill. Just before the end I spotted my friend Irina, who was taking official race photos.
I finished the 20k ride in 40:28.5, for an average speed of 29.65 km/h. Not the 30 I was hoping for, but oh so close!
I racked my bike, and then Alasdair grabbed the timing chip off my ankle and put it onto to Ailish’s. She took off for her 5k run.
Alasdair and I went out to the road to cheer for other runners while we waited for Ailish. We weren’t sure exactly how long she would be. Alasdair eventually walked further along the road, while I waited near the finishing chute. And then there she was! She turned it up for the last 100m and sprinted to the finish (later telling me that this made her feel like she was going to puke). She did great!
We really enjoyed racing together as Team Triathalasaurus!
And Ailish is thinking she might do a try a tri next summer…
We stayed for the awards, and then headed out.
I’m looking forward to doing another relay – such fun!