Race report: Don’t Get Lost Raid the Rib Orienteering Race

It’s amazing how one wrong turn can change everything! Saturday was to be my 2nd time doing an orienteering race with Alasdair and our friend Rebecca, after last fall’s Raid the Hammer. We arrived at Ball’s Falls Conservation Area in Jordan, Ontario for race kit pick-up, where we each got a t-shirt, a package of oatmeal, race instructions, 3 race maps and a waterproof map cover, and then a race bib and SI timing chip for our team.

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Rebecca and I during pre-race planning.

We chose to do the “half” raid, meaning that we would have 3 hours to get from the start location (which we would get to by school bus) to the finish at Ball’s Falls, while finding 11 mandatory controls and as many optional ones as we wanted to. Miss a mandatory control and 15 minutes is added to your time.

We estimated based on previous races (Raid the Hammer, the Snowshoe Raid and the S.T.A.R.S. War snowshoe race) that we should be able to cover 10 km within the 3 hours. I pulled out a piece of string, and set out to map our route based on a new technique that I learned in the Don’t Get Lost Next program for adults – based on the scale of the map(s), figure out the length of string that we could run, and then lay it out on the map(s) on our proposed route, allowing us to figure out exactly how many of the optional controls we should try for!

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Using string to plan out our route based on the distance we can cover in 3 hours.

We decided that we would not look for the 4 controls in the E=MC squared section (must have been hard for Alasdair to give up on these, given his love of math and physics!), nor the 5 in the slopestyle section. To get points in any one of these sections, you had to find all the controls in that section. Instead, we decided to start with control 1, then proceed with 2 to 5, skip the optional Bermuda triangle, do 6 to 8, find dogbone controls if we had time (3 pairs of controls that had to be done sequentially, but you do 1, 2, 3 or none of the pairs), 9, 10, one or more of the 6 controls in the matrix section if we had time (we doubted that we would), then 11 and finally the finish. We highlighted our route on our maps, and were ready to go!

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These were the 3 maps for this race. From right to left, map 1, map 2, map 3. The yellow highlighting shows our planned route.

We headed to the bus as the rain began, and drove the short distance to the race start. The forecast was for a high of 22 degrees Celsius, so rain wasn’t a problem!

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On the bus on the way to the race start.

In chatting with a few teams before the race, we knew that we wouldn’t be the only team heading straight for control 1. We were shocked though when the race began and we were the only team to turn around and run along the road to get to control 1, while every other team headed into the woods. The road route looked shorter to us, and we had verified with the race organizers before the race that we were allowed to take that route. It was not a surprise to us that we were the first ones to arrive at control 1, but we were still amazed! It took us less than 5 minutes to find the control, while the other teams who headed there first took 9, 16 and 17 minutes.

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At control 1.

We took off for the next section, which was a tricky one in which 6 circles were drawn on the map, but we would find only 3 controls here (numbers 2, 3, and 4). We guessed that the race organizers would be sneaky, and wouldn’t put the control at the first circle. We didn’t find anything where the control would be had it been placed there, but we were confident in our navigation, and moved on to the next circle on the map. We were running through brambles and getting all scratched up, but we didn’t see a soul or hear anyone either. Again, there was nothing at the second circle. Had we been less confident, we likely would have spent much longer looking for a control that wasn’t there. It was at the third circle that we spotted control 2, which required us to climb a rocky wet section.

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At control 2.

Control 3 was at the next circle, and then control 4 was at the 6th and last circle! We were feeling pretty good as a team, having found every control quite quickly, and we still hadn’t been overtaken by other teams. By 47:30 (elapsed race time), we had found 5 controls, and things were going great! It was here that we made our fatal error! With every other control, we took a bearing, and even if we ran on a trail, we paid attention to the bearing. For some reason, we looked at the map, and thought it would be easy to just run the trail to control 6. We didn’t take a bearing. We followed the trails on the map, running through some very thick gooey mud, and eventually turning right and following the trail… only it took way longer than we thought it should to get to control 6, and before long, we realized we weren’t where we thought we were. It took us a full 56 minutes to get from control 5 to 6, including us scratching our heads and trying to figure out where we went wrong, backtracking, taking a different route and looking for a different creek, and finally deciding to just go west and hope we hit the creek. It was around this point that we finally saw another team – running in a direction we didn’t want to go. We figured that we must have accidentally ended up in the Bermuda triangle section!! According to the race instructions, “Rumour has it that some teams have entered and never been seen again. The map has been simplified. We got rid of all those things that get in the way: trails, vegetation, boulders. Who needs them!” It was then that we realized the trail we turned right onto wasn’t the one we wanted (we turned too soon), that others had been removed from the map, and we forgot that little detail until too late!!! Heading west, we saw another team, and then we heard and finally spotted the creek, and knew that we had found ourselves!! I spotted control 6 across the creek, and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

We arrived at control 6 at the same time as another team, and from that point until the end, we were never too far from another team. It really was great in the first 47 minutes when we were all alone in the woods!

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Just one of the pretty spots on the course.

The next two controls, 7 and 8, were straightforward to find. We reached the dogbone section, and decided to go for 1A and 1B (had to be done in sequence, in that order, with no other controls in between). We very quickly found 1A, but then we realized that we probably didn’t have time to get 1B – it was a little too far. So, we scrapped that plan and went for 2A, which was very close to a pretty stream. We figured that we could head for 2B and then from there 9, which would mean that we didn’t earn any points for 1A.

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Approaching control 9. Alasdair being Alasdair. [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]

Finding 9 involved a tricky descent to the bottom of a waterfall. We opted to cross the water on top of the waterfall, and climb down the other side. Some teams descended on the near side, which was steeper and potentially more treacherous! They slid down on their bums.

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The biggest of the waterfalls on the course, and the location of control 9.

After 9 we were able to run much of the approximately 900 m along the Bruce Trail to the aid station. It was here that I found my favourite candy coated chocolate Easter eggs, which were in a milk jug and just calling my name! It was the first food I’d had all race. Yum! There was no gear check (we were carrying some mandatory gear, such as a first aid kit, whistle, etc.), so we weren’t there long. I did have a quick cup of gatorade, and off we went again.

The route to control 10 was very pretty, along a fast flowing creek and more of the Bruce Trail. We ran and ran and ran some more, then started wondering if we had overshot the staircase to climb the escarpment. We knew there would be a second staircase if we missed the first, and really we wouldn’t lose time. But time was running out and we weren’t sure we would make it within the 3 hour time limit. Then we spotted the staircase, and we knew we would finish in time! We slowly climbed the steep stairs. It wasn’t long before we found control 10, then with less than 10 minutes left, we decided to just run to the finish and to scrap finding controls within the matrix section. It was a section where teammates could split up (for most of the race course, you have to be a maximum of 25 m away from your teammates), but we were all happy to just finish! We climbed a hill to control 11, ran to the finish, and we were done! We had covered 11 km.


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Finishing as a team! [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]

After changing into dry clothes, we enjoyed the post-race BBQ!

Had we not messed up on control 6, we likely could have found all 3 dogbones, and likely a control or two in the matrix section. We figure that we wasted at least 30 minutes on control 6.

In any case, we had tons of fun and overall were pleased with how our race went! I’m feeling much more confident in my navigation, and a couple of times Alasdair and Rebecca had to tell me to wait for them.

Such fun. Can’t wait for the next team race!

Results (found here)

Time: 2:53:11

Points: 50 (Points were only awarded for optional controls. Dogbones were worth 50 each. We didn’t realize this before the race, but it wouldn’t have changed our approach.)

Placing: 13/17 co-ed teams

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Trip report: My very first backcountry kayak camping trip (at Algonquin Provincial Park)

Back in August 2012 I suggested to my friend Cheryl that we do a canoe trip together in Algonquin. She was game, and after briefly considering bringing our combined four kids along, we ditched that idea and decided to go alone – in her two sea kayaks. We picked a weekend in late September, consulted people more knowledgeable than ourselves about Algonquin, got route recommendations, and learned that when kayak-tripping, fewer and shorter portages are best (had we not been told this, we would have soon come to that conclusion ourselves). We settled on a 2 night 2 lake trip, and set to planning all the gear and food we would need. I told myself not to look at the weather forecast, but as the days got closer I couldn’t help it. The forecast got worse and worse, but we were going anyway!

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Setting out under ominous skies.

Day 1 (Friday)

We picked up our backcountry permit in Kearney and headed to Algonquin Provincial Park, which was along a road that quickly became a gravel road. It took a while to drive the 25 km to the put in on Rain Lake. We were a bit surprised to see lots of people at the put in, including what looked like a huge group of teenage girls with many boats and lots of gear. Would there be any campsites left? Thankfully, they were camping at the put in and wouldn’t be competing for sites (it turned out there was lots of choice for us). The rain didn’t start until we arrived at the put in – of course – but it didn’t rain too much and most of our gear was packed in “waterproof” bags. (It’s not clear who won the bet for the last mini reeses pieces bit – Cheryl, who said it would start pouring at the put in, or me, who said it wouldn’t – it rained, but did it pour?)

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Map of where everything should be packed – simplified things for portaging!

After test-packing the boats back at home before the trip, and making a map to remind ourselves how it all fit in, it didn’t take too long to get ready to go – about an hour from the time we arrived at the put in. We headed out, enjoying the fall colours as we paddled. We checked out some campsites along the way, aiming for one of two island sites (apparently one has the fireplace from an old ranger cabin which has long since disappeared), but decided on a different one when the one island site we could see was occupied. Our site was about 5 km from the put in. It was private, big, and had a great rocky area on the shore for sitting on.  It even had a table for food prep, and a bizarre spinning arrow nailed into a tree…? 

After setting up our two man tent, we set to hanging a bear bag to keep our food high off the ground overnight. It was a first for both of us, since normally my husband did the bear bag when we camped! We had fun, but it wasn’t easy – the instructions sounded so simple, but the trees were never the right distance apart, didn’t have branches at the right height, or had way too many branches in all the wrong places. In the process we managed to avoid any head injuries, but we did snag the bag of carabiners in a V shaped space of a tree, and wondered how the heck we were going to dislodge it (far too high to reach and climbing was out of the question). Cheryl found a huge branch and stripped it of excess branches so it weighed slightly less than a tonne. Then we eventually got it upright and managed to poke the rope loose. Oh my, that was fun! (I now use a simple 1 rope method!)

We reheated delicious stew for dinner, discovered that my water pump was not functioning (had to boil lake water instead), and attempted – but failed – to start a fire with wet wood (and dry paper). Somewhat discouraging, but we reassured ourselves by being convinced that the fires we could see across the lake must have been started with accelerants. Instead of sitting by the fire, we sat on the rocks watching the stars, looking for the bizarrely elusive big dipper, saw some satellites, at least one shooting star, and a… flare?! It seems someone set one off on a neighbouring lake (hopefully they didn’t actually need help, because we weren’t going anywhere in the dark!). I had never heard or seen one before – wow, it was bright. Good thing our fire wouldn’t start – I saw a mouse run through the fire pit.

Overnight was cold and the rain poured down on us, but we were dry in the tent. We heard Barred owls hooting – at least one close, others further way. Very neat. Some loons were also very noisy in the night or early morning.

Day 2 (Saturday)

In the morning we made pancakes for breakfast, and just before sitting down to eat I went down to the water to wash some maple syrup off my fingers (should have used my tongue!!!) … only to slip in while wearing my shoes and thick warm socks. Two soakers and I knew my shoes would never dry. Back to sandals it was (thankfully, I had brought 3 pairs of socks)! I was so looking forward to having warm dry feet. After breakfast we were taking down our campsite when a bungee cord snapped back and cut my thumb – ouch! 

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We loaded up the boats again and headed over to the 310 m portage to Sawyer Lake. It was a difficult take out spot, rocky and awkward. And of course we had an audience, with two guys coming from Sawyer Lake to Rain Lake. We hauled the boats onto shore, unloaded some of the gear into backpacks, and each carried a big backpack and the yellow boat. It was heavy and we had to keep stopping every few feet, it seemed, as our fingers failed us! It was at this point that Cheryl asked if I was cursing her for bringing the kayaks instead of the canoe! We went back for the red kayak and re-loaded everything into the boats. The guys had recommended a campsite to us, so we headed for that one – at the far end of the lake (about 1 km away). As we headed over we waved to people at one campsite, and continued paddling as the wind picked up like crazy. We paddled through waves that I wouldn’t have liked in the canoe. I overshot the campsite and had to turn back into the wind, for another awkward take out without a nice landing spot for boats. However, we managed, and found ourselves at a huge, very exposed campsite! Later it was so windy there were whitecaps. We set our tent up way up on the hill, at what must have been a 45 degree angle! We opted for a sheltered site over a flat one. We set up the tent, a tarp over the kitchen “table” and strung up another bear bag (I think it took less time than at the first site!). 

It was c-c-c-cold in the wind and rain. It rained off and on all day long. When it started to pour, we headed for the shelter of the tent. While we were in there, cosy in our sleeping bags, it started to HAIL! Yes, the weekend had it all.

In the late afternoon/early evening, I was wearing every piece of clothing I had brought with me, except my bathing suit! I had 6 layers on the top, including fleece pyjamas, 3 on the bottom, my winter hat and gloves, and I was still cold! We’re not sure but we think without the wind it was about 4 degrees Celsius. We had warm beverages and went on a moose hunt to get warm. We didn’t find moose but did find moose poo (very close to our toilet and tent!) and other animal scat. There were also lots of cool fungi.

Just before dinner we had 3 otters visit us just off our site – they swam away but not before “talking” to us. Very cute.

We had an amazing chicken salad for dinner and chocolate pudding for dessert. Yum. Later, when the rain had stopped, we sat on the rocky point and star gazed. We also looked enviously at the two fires across the lake, which we were sure had to have been started with accelerants! We both opted to use “hot paws” toe warmers overnight, but didn’t find them too useful. I wore 5 layers on top to bed, and 2 on the bottom, with my winter hat and gloves and yes, I was still cold! I decided that I needed a new sleeping bag. Cheryl was shedding layers!

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Delicious dinner!

Day 3 (Sunday)

We decided to have a cold breakfast and a hot lunch at the car since we wanted to get out before any crazy wind and waves hit Sawyer Lake.

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It took about 2 hours from the time we woke up to the time we paddled away, heading for the portage back to Rain Lake. The water was warmer than the air, but there wasn’t yet too much of a wind. We hauled our boats on shore, and this time, decided to take an extra trip to portage all the gear. I also decided to portage with my camera (which I hadn’t done the day before).

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I learned my lesson on this trip, and now I carry my camera everywhere when I camp, even to the loo!

We walked first with only the packs (no boats). We went back for the yellow kayak, and then on our way back, gathered yellow leaves for a bit of arts and crafts on the trail. We got back to Sawyer Lake, and while Cheryl unloaded the red kayak, I started to spell out Rain with the leaves, having remembered to do so because our friend Doug asked Cheryl if we were going to spell something with rocks or sticks as I usually do. Had he not asked her, we likely would not have thought about it, and we wouldn’t have taken the extra few moments to pick up all the leaves. All of a sudden I heard a grunt, which I first thought was either Cheryl making noise moving the boat, or a bear! I turned around, and almost immediately saw antlers! I knew then that it was a moose. It was not far away, in the bush, and as I called to Cheryl, it headed down to the water. It stopped, looked at us, and sauntered through the lake, over to the other shore and up into the woods. Very very cool! It was about 15 – 20 feet away from us. I had resigned myself to not seeing a moose, so this was even cooler.

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Had we not done an extra trip with the gear, and the gathering of leaves, we might not have seen it at all! I finished with my arts and crafts and we headed over to Rain Lake. We got back into the boats and started our 6 km paddle to the put in. It was windy at times – very windy – and c-c-c-cold! Our hands lost feeling and I couldn’t make mine do what I wanted them to do! As we were paddling out, we heard some crazy grunting in the woods. We figured it was either a very angry bear, or a moose mating call – and settled on the latter. We heard it a few times. We had been warned before our trip that Rain Lake can be a tough paddle on the way out because of the wind, and boy were they right! Rain Lake is a wind tunnel!

We finally made it back to the car, and enjoyed some hot oatmeal for lunch, along with tea and coffee. We “met” the four men who were camped at the accelerant fire site across the lake from us on the 2nd night, and they insisted that all they used was dry wood… and this air thingy that they wind up to provide wind to the fire (rather than blowing on it). They said they were “this close” to bringing dry wood to the girls (us) the night before but because they didn’t see any smoke from our site, they figured we weren’t even trying to build a fire (correct – we didn’t try since all the wood was soaking wet). We packed everything back into the car, and headed back to civilization.

Other animals that we saw on this trip Algonquin: slugs, a chipmunk, herons, crows, loons, mergansers, a grasshopper, one lone frog, a dragonfly, miscellaneous small birds, ducks, unidentified flies. 

All in all we paddled about 15 km, and walked about 2.5 km with the gear. Despite the crummy weather, we enjoyed ourselves and the wilderness that is Algonquin. We both agreed that another night would have been ideal – less packing up and moving and more relaxing. 

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Back at Rain Lake put in.

If you’re interested in reading more about kayaking tripping, check out the guest post I wrote on the Algonquin Outfitters blog.

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Trip report: Canoeing Killarney (glowing eyes in the night and the “Amazing Race”)

I remember this October 2013 trip for the glowing eyes in the night, the “Amazing Race” adventure, and paddling in strong winds and waves! My friend Cheryl and I had never been to Killarney Provincial Park before, but we had heard great things.

As we drove to the park on a Thursday morning, the sun began to disappear, clouds covered the sky, and we wondered when we would get rained on. We made a quick stop at the French River Provincial Park to eat our lunch, and then we were on our way again. At the Bell Lake access point, more than 400 km from home, we went into the Killarney Outfitters office to get our camping permit. We were immediately asked how we enjoyed our trip! Surely we looked too clean, dry, and chipper to be heading home? Permit in hand, we got the canoe down to the water, loaded everything in, and set out, with me in the stern.

We had chosen the popular Bell Lake/Three Mile Lake/Balsam Lake/David lake/Bell Lake circular route, because it also gave us an opportunity to hike to the highest point around – Silver Peak, part of the La Cloche Mountain Range (which apparently used to be higher than the Rocky Mountains out west). Our first campsite was to be on Little Bell Lake, a very small lake with just one campsite on it, and only a short portage (130 m) from Balsam Lake. We learned quickly that you need eagle eyes to spot the portage and campsite signs at Killarney! The signs are significantly smaller than the ones at other parks. Before we got to Little Bell Lake, we had to portage 40 m from Three Mile Lake into Balsam Lake – the portage was on an old marine railway, which apparently used to be like a moving carpet that you could put your boat on… and watch it portage itself! That little mechanism is no longer in action. At the start of our paddling, the lakes were super smooth, with no wind and awesome reflections in the water. That changed when the light rain started. It then rained off and on for the entire time we were at Killarney.

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We spent a lot of time under a tarp.

We arrived at our campsite after 2 hours of paddling (a distance of about 8 1/2 km), and set up the tent and the bear bag to hang our food – we used the “Reg method” for the first time, which is my go to method now. It took 5 minutes, used just 1 bag, 1 long rope, no pulleys or carabiners, and was dead easy to do! Unfortunately it rained while we were cooking our tortilla pizzas (with rehydrated dehydrated veggies and pineapple), but they were delicious. I also discovered – while prepping dinner – that we had failed to pack forks, knives and spoons (the guilty party shall remain nameless)! I did have a Swiss Army Knife, and Cheryl had a knife too, so all was not lost. We also had a big stirring spoon and a spatula. But, we spent the next few days experimenting with sticks as chopsticks, stir spoons, scoops, and knives! Cheryl lit a 1-match fire later, which we would have enjoyed more had it not been so wet out! That night when it was pitch dark out (no moon, no stars), I spotted what I thought was a 5-Lined Skink while I was sitting on the loo, but later at home I realized (with some photo comparisons) that in fact it was an Eastern Red-backed Salamander. It didn’t seem too bothered by my headlamp, or later my camera!

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Pretty fall colours.

On Friday morning we had an awesome pancake breakfast with rehydrated dehydrated bananas, peaches and kiwi, Chai tea and gatorade. We packed up, and with Cheryl in the stern this time, we headed back to the portage to Balsam Lake, and then paddled our way to David Lake. At the 630 m portage we met 2 girls who were studying at Laurentian College in Sudbury and taking an Outdoor Recreation Management program – or something to that effect. They had to do a 3-night 4-day canoe trip before they could graduate. However, based on the STUFF they had with them, they clearly hadn’t yet learned how to pack lightly. One of the girls did carry one of our paddles and a pelican case, since she had a free hand. Getting under the boat with the canoe pack on was fun, and the portage started straight uphill, but it wasn’t bad. It turns out the girls were also hoping to camp close to the trailhead for the hike to Silver Peak, since they intended to do the hike the next day as well. When we saw the girls the next day near the top of Silver Peak, we found out that they saw a bear just after we left them (sleeping on a rock)!

We paddled David Lake toward the trailhead, getting increasingly concerned as all the campsites were taken (we had a permit to camp on the lake that night, but not on a specific site). We were really hoping that we didn’t get to the far end of the lake only to discover that we had to paddle 4 km back (into the wind!) to find a site. And we knew that the girls would be behind us, also looking for a site. We decided to forego lunch in favour of finding a site, and our determined paddling and race against the clock (we eventually saw their canoe behind us) made us feel like competitors on the Amazing Race! Finally we saw what we thought was a site, but it said that it was NOT a site and we should NOT camp there. We continued, passing a few more occupied sites, until finally we found a free site! We weren’t sure why it didn’t have a campsite sign visible from the water, but we pulled everything out of the boat, put the boat on shore, and breathed a collective sigh of relief! And then… we could see the girls’ boat… and at our site, we saw trail markers… that’s odd, we said… we quickly realized we were on a backpacking site, which we did NOT have a permit for! Survival instincts kicked in. We also felt badly that the girls may not have a site… but not badly enough to not take one ourselves! We quickly debated staying there anyway, or putting everything back in the canoe and heading further down to the lake to the last possible site (which we couldn’t see). Thankfully, the last site was free and we took it. We saw the girls paddling in the other direction (not sure where they were going). We had a site and we were very relieved!!! We put up our tent and bear bag, and then we had our lunch at 5 PM – a yummy carrot raisin pepper peanut salad – eaten with chopsticks, followed by some delicious apple crisp. I used the rehydrating apples (in very hot water) to warm myself up!

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Warming up with rehydrating apples.

We gathered wood, and had a great fire! While Cheryl was filtering water and I was keeping her company at the shore, an otter swam up out of the water about 10 feet from me, stood on its back legs and took a good look at us. Then it ran up the hill away from us. (I had seen what I thought was likely an otter on the first day too, but while we were paddling and it was scampering up a rock on shore.) That night, I was almost at the loo – in the complete dark – when my headlamp caught glowing eyeballs not too far away! Coyote? Wolf? Fox? Bear? Moose? Do I stay to pee?? I did, and the thing clearly saw me, because it moved a bit higher up the hill. I walked back to the campfire very quickly and told Cheryl that I wasn’t going to the bathroom alone again that night!! It was freaky! (And maybe it was just a raccoon! But it seemed higher off the ground…. )

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Using birch bark as a spoon.

Saturday morning it was quite windy. We had an awesome oatmeal breakfast (with nuts, raisins, and rehydrated dehydrated fruit) with Chai tea and gatorade, and then headed for the trailhead to hike 5.2 km up to Silver Peak. It was a short paddle there, and when we arrived there were 2 other canoes pulled up on shore. The trail was well marked with little signs, but in some places they used big rock piles to mark the route. When we were nearly at the top, a group coming down asked us, “Did you see the bear?” Apparently we were the only group going up who hadn’t seen it. We kept our eyes open, and as we made the final turn up the hill, we heard that group yelling at the bear “Go away bear!” They were loud! A few minutes before meeting that group, we had heard another group (around 15 men and teenage boys) yell something but we figured it was because they reached the top… later we realized it might have been them yelling at the bear. In any case, we got to the top, and as we arrived we met the 2 girls from the day before heading down (being “escorted” by 2 guys they met at the top) – because they too had seen the bear. I forgot to ask them where they found a campsite the night before!! We looked around, took some pictures, accidentally discovered a geocache, and then had our lunch before heading down. Of course the rain started pretty much as we arrived at the top! While eating our lunch 3 women reached the top, one carrying bear spray (Cheryl had some too), one carrying a fog horn, and one a massive knife. The one with the knife said she had no idea what she would do with it, but her husband made her take it!

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View from Silver Peak.

We started our descent knowing that a bear was in the area, and it didn’t take long before I spotted it! We backed up, talked so the bear knew we were there, Cheryl pulled the bear spray out of its holster, and we waited for the bear to make a move. It was happily eating, but did eventually cross the path back towards the way we had come (uphill). Unfortunately, we lost sight of it, and didn’t want to keep walking because there was a big mound of earth that we couldn’t see over or around… and the bear could be right behind it…. eventually we did proceed, and saw that the bear wasn’t behind the mound – it was sitting or standing with its bum in a little den (at the base of a tree) watching us! The bear really didn’t seem bothered by us, so no bear spray was deployed! Just before arriving back at the canoe we decided to check out Boundary Lake, so we walked about 500 m and had our snack there. It was cold so we didn’t stay long. We walked back to the trailhead and paddled back to our campsite, and on the way passed very close to a man who was slowly – very slowly – going into the water in his white boxers! His friend said that he had intended to get in before we got there! Back at our site we gathered more wood, had rehydrated dehydrated minestrone soup, and fresh baked corn bread for dinner. Later we had chocolate pudding and Baileys. Yum.

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Such a pretty landscape.

On Sunday we awoke to rain, and decided to pack up the tent and put everything under our tarps while we had our no-cook breakfast (homemade bran muffins and dehydrated applesauce – eaten like fruit leather – with gatorade). We had another windy paddle, but not quite as windy as the day before. At the first portage (210 m), Cheryl had a go at portaging the canoe, which left me to carry the huge pack, 3 paddles, and 2 pelican cases. At the 2nd portage (705 m), we were just pulling the boat out of the water when a fleet of canoes arrived – the group of 15 or so hikers from the day before, and I took the opportunity to ask for help to stand up with that huge pack on. Two men quickly ran over – “How long have you been sitting like that?” one said, “3 days?!” – let me tell you, it made standing up EASY! Part way through the portage Cheryl and I switched, so that I took the boat and she got the rest of the stuff. I was hoping that when I got to the end there would be at least one of the big group there and able to help me get the canoe off (I haven’t mastered that part solo yet). I was lucky! I got to the end and asked for help – 2 different guys jumped up, took the boat right off of me (I only asked for help for them to take the weight off one end) and asked where I wanted it – I said anywhere, so they put it right in the water for me! For the rest of the paddle back to the van it was pouring rain, and we were relieved when we arrived, knowing that we would soon be in clean and dry clothes (left in the van)!

All told we paddled/portaged/hiked about 42.2 km. Despite the rain, it was a great trip!

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We couldn’t have been much wetter!

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Race report: UKR Gators O-Cup 2017 (or, introducing a friend to the sport of orienteering)

“Are things always this heated?” That’s what my friend Kristin asked at the start line of her very first orienteering race. We were gathered in a small crowd of about 30 people, many of whom were confused about the rules for this race. Some weren’t sure what was meant by a “handicap”, and others didn’t know how to apply their handicap to the race.

But let me step back… I put out a call for friends to join me at this race, and Kristin quickly jumped in… on condition that she could tag along with me (at least someone thinks I’m an expert!). This would be her introduction to orienteering. The pressure was on.

We arrived at the Nassagaweya-Puslinch Townline separately, on the edges of the Starkey Hills Conservation Area just south of Guelph (and at the Milton border). We got there early so that I could give Kristin a crash course in orienteering! For this race, the UKR Gators O-Cup 2017, run by the Toronto Orienteering Club, we would be given the race map just 10 minutes before the start of the race. This was new for me, since all the other orienteering races I’ve done have given more time pre-race to plan my strategy for finding the controls – some up to an hour or more!

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Pre-race photo taken by Patrick! Thanks for taking your gloves off.

In any case, we checked in with the course organizers, and received 2 loaves of Rudolph’s bread each. I’d never heard of it, but it’s delicious stuff! I’d also never received bread as a race giveaway! We went back to Kristin’s car, where I taught her the basics of compass reading, map markings, race strategy etc. She said she’d just defer to me and follow me, so that was our plan.

With no “facilities” at this race, we made use of the bushes pre-race. Just before it was time to get our maps, someone came to the car and gave us our SI timing chips. Then we got our maps, and I quickly tried to figure out the likely rules for the race, given the numbering of the controls. Last minute I decided to add another long sleeved shirt, with the temperature at about -5 degrees Celsius. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground, which had fallen the night before.

Before long, we all headed to the race start a couple of hundred metres away, up a hill and into the woods. Confusion ensued. Once everyone was clear on the race rules, and we all understood that we had to do controls 1 to 6 in order, then up to 6 “dogbones” in an imaginary box, and then controls 7 to 12 in order before we hit the final one at the finish line (13), we were pretty much ready to go (the very confusing A/a dogbone was outside of the box, causing all kinds of uneasiness! – we were told that A/a was optional). Dogbones are pairs of controls that must be done one after the other – for example, control B and control b must be found one after the other, either B b or b B. Even if there’s another control nearby, you can’t check in at it, or the points won’t count for the dogbone. Based on our age, our “handicap” was 3, meaning that of the 6 dogbones in the box, we could skip 3 of them. Therefore, we had to find 3 of them.

Once the timing people were ready, we did a countdown from 10, and the race began! We would have 2 hours to find all of the controls.

We headed for the road and what I figured would be the easier way to get to control 1. We had some fairly quick success finding controls 1, 2, and 3, but overshot 4. One of the hardest things for me so far is estimating distances – despite pace counting, we were overshooting the distances. In any case, we backtracked and found 4, then found 5 and 6, and headed for the opening in the barbed wire fence to get us into the “box” and the dogbones.

We decided to go for b/B, G/g and then C/c on our way back out of the box. We didn’t realize until G, when I mentioned to another competitor (Kris) that the control numbers weren’t marked, so we didn’t know if we had found the one we were looking for, when she told us that the #s were marked on the back of our maps! So for example, G was actually marked 127 on the control. Of course! I should have known that. In any case, it made us more confident in our finds from then on! At some point while we were doing the dogbones, we were startled by loud flapping, as we scared something big out of the trees! We overshot C on our way from g, and spent time at the top of a hill 1) admiring the scenery and 2) wondering where the heck we were!

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The picture doesn’t quite do the scenery justice!

We headed back to the main trail and soon found a guy peeing in the woods – and then we followed him and found C. Speaking of following people… we found the light dusting of snow to be helpful at times, as we could see which way other people had gone. After finding c, we overshot (again!) the break in the fence, and had to backtrack to get out of the box.

After finding 7, we overshot 8 and found 3 again instead. We were watching the time, and realizing that we may have to give up on 8 and head for the finish line. However, we did find it in the end, and then looked for our fastest way back to the finish. We didn’t have time to look for any more controls. We headed for a trail, since I figured we could run back the fastest that way, and be less likely to get lost! However, we quickly realized that we should have taken a different trail, so backtracked slightly and started down another one. When the trail started turning away from the direction we wanted to go, I started to doubt my plan! But I looked at the map again and decided to trust that I was right.

Soon enough, we were heading in the right direction again. And then we saw hydro poles. And heard cars. And then we were back at the road. We quickly spotted someone running away from the finish and toward us, and I asked if they were looking for us (almost 2 hours had elapsed since the race start). He said “sort of!” and then asked if we had seen 2 older gentlemen. We hadn’t, but as we approached the finish line, there they were! They beat me to the finish, so I was officially the last finisher. I haven’t seen any results posted, so I’m not sure how many points we earned in the end.

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It was a fun race, and neat to be able to introduce a friend to orienteering!

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Field testing my homemade tin can stove: hot chocolate, anyone?

What better way to field test my homemade tin can stove than to make hot chocolate in the woods of Algonquin Park while on a 4-day snowshoe backcountry camping trip? This would be my first time trying out the stove, so I had no idea how it would actually work in practice!

Two related links:

Making Hot Chocolate

For this little experiment, I used the cardboard/wax filled tuna can fuel source, and my peach can pot holder, plus my campfire cooking pot, 1 litre of water, a pot lifter, and my brand new first ever flint, which my co-worker thoughtfully chose for me (along with Moon Cheese!) in a secret gift swap.

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I decided to set up the stove on hard packed snow. I struggled to get the flint to light the cardboard, but when I tucked a tiny piece of newspaper between the cardboard layers, it lit no problem. I put the peach can on top of it, the pot with water on top of that, put a lid on the pot, and opened the doors at the bottom to allow for good air flow. As you can see from the picture just below, the pot was a bit lopsided, and I was worried that it would tip over.

So, my friend Cheryl and I built a small wooden base, and then she carefully moved the burning tin can onto the wood (while I took photos!). I put the peach can on top, the pot on top of that, lid on, and then my “tea pot cosy” to speed cooking (apparently the technical term is a “pot parka” – incidentally, if you know where to buy a 10″ one, please let me know!).

And then we waited. And waited. And every once in a while, I went close to the stove to make sure that it was still burning – and every time, it was. Every so often, I removed the pot cosy and the lid, and carefully dunked my finger into the pot (kids, don’t try this at home!).

It seemed unlikely that the water would ever boil. I can’t remember now if I ever put the doors down – but I don’t think I did. The water did warm up, but it never did boil. I’m not sure why.

So we made our “hot chocolate”, which was actually “warm chocolate”, and I enjoyed every last drop, knowing that I had made it on my homemade stove!

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After I had removed the pot, I left the tuna can fuel source to burn. I wanted to know how long it would last. In the end, it burned for a remarkable 3 hours! So while it was a bit of a failure in making hot chocolate, it would have served its purpose had I needed it to light a fire to stay warm!

Converting My Stove into a Stick Stove

I wasn’t done experimenting with my little stove! I decided to turn it into a stick stove, and to try to melt a pot of snow. It wasn’t designed for this purpose, but I didn’t care. I used 2 logs as a base, and started a very small fire in the can. I wasn’t having much luck keeping the fire burning – some of the wood was wet, so that didn’t help. It was also somewhat windy. I had to continually feed the sticks in, and push the fire into the can (the fire was burning both inside and outside of the can.

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Remember that wood base? Well wood burns, right? Eventually, the two base logs started burning, and my fire dropped onto the snow beneath the big logs. By this point, the fire was burning down below, and inside the can.

Twice I had to move the stove along the wooden base, so it didn’t shift too much and tip – the burning base was tipping the stove!

The snow melted, but by this point, I was growing bored of my stove, fighting with wet wood, wind, and my own patience. I decided to give up. However, I had successfully melted the pot of snow, and the water was even starting to warm up slightly.  I’ll call that a win!

I had fun field testing my homemade tin can stove. I was at Algonquin – how could I not?!

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Race Report: Don’t Get Lost Eliminator Adventure Run

Minutes before the Don’t Get Lost Eliminator Adventure Run was to begin, I received a dire warning from another racer: the trails are very tricky to navigate, and “I’ve been in tears before!” Yikes! I wasn’t surprised about the trails though – somehow, I expected that!

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The race took place at this ranch in Milton.

My friends weren’t able to join me at this race (something about work, and little people, and the Chilly 1/2 marathon!), so I was tackling it myself. I arrived at Rocky Ridge Ranch just before the 9 AM start of registration, so I had plenty of time before the 10:30 race start to get organized and make a plan. I chatted with other racers, and once again asked Steve H. to take a few pictures of me. Thanks Steve!

For this race, there were 30 controls, which could be done in any order. The goal was to find as many as possible within the 2 hour time limit (going over the limit meant losing a certain number of points per minute). I decided to focus on the easy (25 points) and intermediate (50 points) controls, and to avoid the difficult (75 points), expert (100 points), and backcountry (150 points) controls. The easy ones were all on trails or at trail junctions, while the intermediate ones required some off trail navigation.

I worked out a clockwise route, and wrote down compass bearings for each control along my route. There were 18 of them. I also wrote down the approximate distance between controls (in centimetres). If you take a look at the map below, you can see the trails running all over the place. For this map, the scale was 1:7,500, so 1 cm on the map represented 75 m.

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Note the compass bearings taken pre-race. In a nice neat list. So handy… not.

During the pre-race briefing, we were told that if we were new to orienteering or not confident about our navigational abilities, we should NOT venture below a certain point on the map. I had already planned to avoid this lower section. We were also told that the trails are not always easy to find.

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Mapping out my route pre-race. 

After the briefing, it was time to head for the start line. At -9 degrees Celsius, it was a bit cold waiting for the race to begin, but the sun was out so it wasn’t too bad. The race started, and we all headed for control #2, the closest one.

Given the crowd, it was easy to find! From there, I forgot to re-set my compass bearing, and just followed a few people, thinking we were going the right way. And then we reached a control marked #33, which confused me for a couple of reasons: 1) I was expecting #1, and 2) there was no #33 on the map! It turns out we’d gone counterclockwise, and found #3 not the #1 control I wanted! At that moment I needed to decide whether I should run back to #2 to get onto my clockwise plan, or whether I would just run my planned route backwards – this would mean no backtracking, but I’d have to work out compass bearings as I went along, losing some time. I decided to be reckless and change my route!

It didn’t take long for me to realize how difficult it was to navigate on the trails. It was really hard matching actual trails to what I saw in front of me. Sometimes, I used ribbons in the trees to determine that a trail must run that way!

It took me more than 10 minutes to find #4, and when I did, the other racers there thought it was #5, but I was sure it was #4. Unfortunately, controls 1-9 weren’t marked 1-9, but instead 31, 32, 33… 39, which took some of us a while to figure out! Next I went for #10, but somehow ended up at #6 while looking for it. I was not off to a great start!! It was a bit discouraging! I decided to scrap #10 and just continue to #13. Next up were #14 and #7, which were close together and not hard to find. I ended up looking for the next one, #16, with 2 women named Patty and Cathy (I think!). We tried to make sense of the map and a fence, and eventually found the control!

Another woman, Kim, asked me if I wanted to find #18 with her, and I readily agreed. Somehow we completely overshot the control, which we figured out as soon as we hit a road! Clearly we had missed the “boulder group” where the control was supposed to be (there were boulders all over the place, so this clue wasn’t so helpful)! We decided to run further away from the control along the road, stopping when it intersected a trail, because at that point we’d know exactly where we were! We reset our bearing, and then successfully found the control. At that point, Kim decided to head toward the finish, because her recent bout with bronchitis was making things difficult for her. From that point, I set my bearing for #17, and thought it would be easy to find! Ha! Instead, I ended up looking for the control with 2 people looking for a different one, and the best part is that we actually found a 3rd one (not the one any of us were looking for) – #8! I decided to forget about control 17, because I didn’t want to waste more time on it.

After that, things got pretty easy! I quickly found #12 then #15, and re-joined Patty and Cathy to find #9. Once again, I realized how much closer things were than I expected them to be, so we decided that we had time to do #11 and #5 before heading for #1 and then the finish line. We still had 25 minutes to spare. After finding #11 and #5, which were really close together, and which we found by following trails (not compass bearings), we went along trails again to find #9. From there it was a short run to #1, and then I was on my way to the finish line!

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Approaching the finish. Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost.

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Heading for the finish line. Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost.

Race Results

Points: 575

Placing: 8/10 open women age group

Placing overall, not counting teams of cadets: Tied for 29th out of 42 people

Time: 1:51

Controls found: (far right column = elapsed time since race start)

32 (#2 on the map), 25p, 1:44 (1:44)

33 (#3 on the map), 25p, 4:21 (6:05)

34 (#4 on the map), 25p, 10:52 (16:57)

36 (#6 on the map), 25p, 4:57 (21:54)

44 (#13 on the map), 50p, 2:26 (24:20)

37 (#7 on the map), 25p, 3:49 (28:09)

45 (#14 on the map), 50p, 3:21 (31:30)

47 (#16 on the map), 50p, 16:56 (48:26)

49 (#18 on the map), 50p, 18:33 (1:06:59)

38 (#8 on the map), 25p, 12:34 (1:19:33)

43 (#12 on the map), 50p, 4:41 (1:24:14)

46 (#15 on the map), 50p, 2:27 (1:26:41)

39 (#9 on the map), 25p, 7:47 (1:34:28)

42 (#11 on the map), 50p, 5:13 (1:39:41)

35 (#5 on the map), 25p, 1:34 (1:41:15)

31 (#1 on the map), 25p, 5:39 (1:46:54)

I’m pretty pleased that I found 16 of the 18 controls I planned for pre-race. One I didn’t even look for (#10), and one I couldn’t find (#17). I’m getting better, though I still have lots to learn! Biggest lesson from this race: don’t be a lemming.

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So many adventures, so little time: Planning for the future at the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show!

This weekend I attended the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show for the first time, and I came away with lots of ideas for things I’d love to do! I also returned home with a new toy…

No, the toy isn’t a boat, but my friend Cheryl and I did check out the canoes on display at the Swift Canoe and Kayak and Souris River stalls, both Canadian companies with some great options for canoe-tripping! We also talked used canoes with Randy from Algonquin Outfitters.

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Continuing with the paddling theme, I spent some time at the ORCKA booth (Ontario Recreational Canoeing and Kayaking Association), where I learned about the many certification programs they offer. I’m particularly interested in the MOVING WATER LEVEL 1 – Canoe Skills, and RIVER RUNNING LEVEL 1 – Skills courses. I also chatted with someone about personal locator beacons (to call for help if need be), the different kinds and the pros and cons of each. I own one, but am interested in the kinds that allow 2-way communication.

I grabbed some helpful handouts at the ORCKA booth too!

  • Know your knots and how to use them
  • Eight ways to pitch a fly-tarp
  • Wilderness trip plan (a helpful form to fill out, taking one on your trip with you, and leaving one with family or friends – to be used if you don’t return when expected)

At the Madawaska Kanu Centre booth, I checked out their whitewater canoeing courses, and chatted with Rachel (I think!). It’s been years since I was there, but I had a fantastic experience doing their 5-day whitewater kayaking course. I’d love to go back and get some whitewater canoeing experience, which would allow me to expand my canoe trip options by making me more comfortable in moving water! As you can see, I’m already a natural in a solo canoe – the only thing missing? A PFD!

When I spotted the One Axe Pursuits booth, I was drawn in! No, I didn’t buy an ice axe or crampons, but I did talk to two friendly women about the rock climbing, ziplining, and ice climbing one-day adventures that they run! I’d love to try ice climbing at the Elora Gorge next winter, and maybe the ziplining and rappelling before that with my husband and kids.

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Like a pro!

In addition to walking around and checking out the things for sale, and the various adventures on offer, I watched a few presentations – all of them at the Adventures in Paddling Stage. I listened to Mike Ranta talk about his 200 days of paddling across Canada from the West Coast to the East Coast, to raise awareness for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (in particular in Canada’s veterans). And I listened to David Lee (The Passionate Paddler), talk about one of his many crazy canoe trips, which involved carrying and dragging a canoe up rivers with very little water in them.

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The Passionate Paddler

One spot that drew me in more than once was the KIHD Products booth, where I drooled over these Canadian made stick stoves! In the end, I decided to buy the lightweight titanium version – a new toy that I can’t wait to test out.

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I may not wait for my next camping trip before I try this out!

I spent hours wandering around the exhibits, and was inspired to try some new things!

Thank you to the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show for choosing me as one of their guest bloggers.

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