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.

DSC06216

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!

DSC06230

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.

DSC06320

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?!

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyrapaterson

Posted in Gear review, Skills | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

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!

img_8863

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.

IMG_8880 (1)

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.

img_8860

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!

17039060_872625989545568_5900109758565457190_o

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

17038947_872626239545543_5447939972269354819_o

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.

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyrapaterson

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

img_8751

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.

img_8757

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.

img_8766

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.

img_8761

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.

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyrapaterson

Posted in Misc, Trip planning | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Winter car camping at Mew Lake: Algonquin Outfitters guest post

My very first winter camping experience was a 3-day car camping trip at Mew Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park. In my guest post on the Algonquin Outfitters blog, I write about that first experience. Wouldn’t everyone go winter camping for the very first time during a cold weather alert?

DSC09239

Mizzy Lake

Posted in Algonquin Outfitters guest blog post, Car camping trip reports, snowshoeing, winter, Winter camping | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Trip report: 4-day snowshoe backcountry camping trip at Algonquin Provincial Park, with one clever thief of a pine marten

The thing about backcountry camping trips is that you can never really know ahead of time the adventures you’ll have! Taking that first step away from the car at the beginning of my 4-day snowshoe trip last week at Algonquin Provincial Park, I had no clue that I would a) do something really stupid, and b) hunt a thief!

Day 1: Mew Lake to Provoking Lake West, via the Highland Trail (3.4 km)

After stopping at the West Gate to purchase our backcountry camping permits, Cheryl and I parked at Mew Lake and loaded all of our stuff onto our 2 homemade sleds. I was eager to try out my modified sled, which I altered this summer to include more attachment points and more rigid poles. In addition to a winter tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, clothing and toiletries, cooking gear, food and emergency supplies such as a first aid kit, we had with us an axe, a saw, and 2 bags of kindling, which we purchased at the wood lot.

It was around -5 degrees Celsius, under a sunny sky!

dscn2783

We headed for the Track and Tower Trail, and then the Highland Trail, which we would hike until we reached Provoking Lake West. It was a Thursday, so there weren’t too many people around. We walked for 3.4 km before setting up camp, which is a much slower process when your fingers are cold and you’re trying to do things with gloves on! We got the tent up, found a tree to hang our food from little critters, and decided we were too tired to gather wood to make a fire. Before dinner, I took my GPS and headed out for a run, because I’m doing the #FebruaryChallenge, and having set a goal for myself of running a minimum of 1 km every day in February, I couldn’t let a little winter camping trip get in the way!

We were in the tent early the first night, and despite each having 2 one litre Nalgene bottles full of hot water, I was cold and didn’t sleep well – it was around -17 degrees Celsius overnight. Cheryl was fine, so I’ve come to the conclusion that I need a better winter sleeping bag. Mine is rated to -20C, but even with the addition of a fleece liner, it’s not enough.

We brought our winter boots (which we wore around camp) and our hiking boots (which we used with our snowshoes) into the tent at night, so that they didn’t get frosty overnight.

Day 2: Day hike along the waterfront of Provoking Lake West (1.5 km)

After breakfast I set aside our morning and afternoon snacks, and we put our carrot raisin peanut salad wraps into our coat pockets to thaw for lunch. We grabbed a sled and headed into the forest to find deadwood, so that we could have a fire that night. When we got back to our campsite, I found 2 Ziploc bags in the snow around a tree – definitely not where I left them. It was then that I realized I had left our morning and afternoon snacks on a tarp, an open invitation to hungry little critters to come enjoy a snack! While there were little holes in the bag holding our afternoon snack, the snacks themselves were edible, but one of two morning snack bags had disappeared, along with the big bag that had held it all. We looked for footprints, and decided that the thief must have been a pine marten! We went on a hunt, not really expecting to find our snack, but thinking we might find the empty bags. We followed fresh footprints, but they went everywhere, including into trees! We never did find the snack – thankfully, Cheryl shared her morning snack with me! I did, however, later see the pine marten jump from a tree onto the ground, in the area we had been searching!

Later we chopped our wood and broke it into little bits, preparing it for our evening fire.

 

In the afternoon, we went for a walk on our snowshoes along the waterfront, checking out some of the summer campsites. This was my second winter backcountry camping trip using my Tubb’s Women’s Elevate snowshoes and poles, which I got at Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville. They are awesome! We ended up back on the Highland Trail, where we ate our still frozen wraps – next time, we’ll need to heat them up a bit at breakfast!

The snow on the trees was very pretty that day, but the sun was melting it and it was falling on us over and over again! Not so nice down the back of your neck though…

Back at our campsite I decided to try out my homemade tin can stove, and with it I successfully made “hot” chocolate (field test of the stove here!).

dsc06256

Sunset on Provoking Lake West

 

At some point, I also ran for a set amount of time (equivalent to a 1 km run), in loops around and around or campsite.

During dinner I looked up and saw a pretty pink sky. I quickly headed for the shore, and the sky got even prettier. Later we successfully made a fire, and enjoyed a snack with Baileys. It wasn’t as cold that night, and while I was cold at the beginning, I warmed up and slept quite well!

Day 3: Day hike along the Highland Trail to Provoking Lake East (5.5 km)

After breakfast we decided to go for another snowshoe hike, this time along the Highland Trail toward Provoking Lake East. We wanted to check out the summer campsites. We had barely walked 300 m when we both realized we were seriously overdressed! In fact, the high that day was +10C, so we stopped on the trail and stripped off some layers! We could have hiked in shorts and t-shirts. The sun was knocking down what snow remained on tree branches. We had lunch at a beautiful campsite, sitting in the warm sun.

 

dsc06296dsc06340

 

After we returned to our campsite, I decided to do precisely what I wasn’t supposed to do (we only live once!) – toboggan in my very well marked “This is not a toy. This product has no steering or braking mechanism.” sled. Laughter ensued.

Again, I did a timed run, this time running a line back and forth, back and forth.

I also turned my homemade stove into a stick stove, and attempted to boil water. I did melt a full pot of snow, and it did start to warm up, but I lost interest (and patience) in continually feeding the sticks into it. There were more interesting things to do, such as build a snowman! After dinner, we had another fire, and burned most of the wood we had gathered.

It was so warm in the tent, that we had to strip layers off in the night!

dscn2848

Day 4: Provoking Lake West to Mew Lake (3.4 km)

We packed up everything inside the tent and started heating water for breakfast while we continued packing as much as we could. We met quite a few people on the way out, more so as we got closer to Mew Lake.

We even ran into Camper Christina and Outdoors Jen, who were camping at Mew Lake for the weekend as part of Winter in the Wild.

Version 2

Photo courtesy of Jen W.!

In the last stretch before reaching Mew Lake, I fed chickadees out of my hand. Back at Mew Lake, I ran 1 km within the campground!

dscn2884

It was a fun trip, despite the wild swings in weather. We were very fortunate to have gone last week, because while the snow was melting and shrinking and falling off tree branches, there was still snow! This weekend, with temperatures in the mid-teens in south-western Ontario, things may be messy at Algonquin!

If you’re wondering what we ate on our trip, breakfasts were hot cereals; lunches were wraps and homemade crackers, dehydrated hummus and dehydrated veggies; dinners were chile, minestrone soup, and spinach and quinoa soup; snacks were trail mix, granola bars, dried fruit, chocolate, and energy balls; and drinks were water, gatorade, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate.

I’m already looking forward to next winter’s trip!

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyrapaterson

Posted in Backcountry camping, snowshoeing, winter, Winter camping | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Race report: Mini snowshoe duathlon – 4k snowshoe + 4k run

After starting snowshoe running this winter, and participating in two snowshoe orienteering races (Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid, and Stars War Adventure Race), I knew I wanted to do a snowshoe running race before the winter was out – i.e. one without orienteering! So I searched online, and found one within a reasonable distance from home: the Personal Best – Caledon Hills Bike Shop Winter Snowshoe & Fat Bike Races. (In fact, it was the only one left this winter that I was able to do without driving for hours and hours!) After checking that there was actually enough snow for the race, I signed up and recruited a friend, who then recruited two more.

The drive to Albion Hills Conservation Area was snowy, but Lisa and I took it slowly and arrived about 45 minutes before the race was to start. We met Mauro there, but unfortunately their friend turned back because of the weather. The temperature was perfect for the race, with the falling snow a nice touch!

It was a quick check in process – we got a race bib and an Awake chocolate bar. This was a no frills race, meaning that it didn’t cost much, but regardless we got a timed race and fantastic trails (no race shirt or medal). They even did some draw prizes before the race, so that people didn’t have to stay afterwards – if you won something, you were told when you registered. Nothing for us today!

While I had registered for the 4k snowshoe + 4k run, there were other events going on at the same time, all on the same trails and roads. Snowshoe runners were to stick to the left, and fat bikers to the right, to avoid any collisions! Here’s the full list of events:

  • Mini snowshoe 4k
  • Mega snowshoe 8k
  • Mini snowshoe duathlon (4k snowshoe + 4k run)
  • Mega snowshoe duathlon (8k snowshoe +4k run)
  • Fat bike 8k
  • Fat bike 16k
  • Fat bike 8k duathlon (8k fat bike + 4k run)

I’d love to do a snowshoe/fat bike/run race!

Pre-race email instructions clearly set out the race route, and showed pictures of spray paint in the snow marking the way, but today’s fresh snow meant that the organizers had to go out and mark it again!

Just before 9:30 AM, we put our snowshoes on and headed outside to the start line, which was just a few feet from the main chalet. The fat bike racers started at 9:30, and the snowshoe runners at 9:33. All told there were about 50 people participating in all of the races combined.

img_8655

Lisa, Mauro and I pre-race.

img_8658

Two of many fat bikes ready to go!

And just like that, we were off! It didn’t take too long for the crowd to thin, and for me to discover the hills! It was such a pretty route through the forest. Once the faster runners lost me, I ran completely on my own for a while – there were slower people behind me who I couldn’t see or hear. Despite being a bit under the weather with a cold, I decided to try to run the entire course. Even the uphills. And there were lots of them! It was so peaceful  in the forest, with lightly falling snow and accumulated snow on the tree branches that I had to stop for a second to take a picture! The trails were nicely groomed by park staff, and it was easy to not get lost, since all I had to do was follow the footsteps of the snowshoers and fat bikers who has passed before me. A couple of fat bikers later passed me, but I figured they must have been late to start. I had no idea how far I had run, and wasn’t even able to estimate based on elapsed time, since I haven’t run on snowshoes enough to do that. I saw one biker do a slow speed tumble, but he was fine. I appreciated the fat bikers yelling “on your right” as they approached from behind. Later, when I was getting close to the end of the 4k loop (which apparently was closer to 3.2k), I was passed by several more fat bikers, who were finishing up their 2nd loops. Thankfully I was not lapped by any snowshoers!

img_8663

Quick photo during the race.

At the end of the snowshoe segment, we were to run through the finishing arch, around the corner, take our snowshoes off and head out onto the park roads for the run.

16601997_1480667081957066_3318359773158901881_o

I swear I was running around this corner, but it sure doesn’t look like it! [Race photo]

My legs definitely felt weird starting the run after having snowshoed! The park roads had been nicely plowed, so while there was some snow, the footing was good! The run route was hilly – more so on the way out, I think. Not too far from the run turnaround, Mauro and then Lisa passed me going the other way. I continued to run the whole thing. At one point on the way back, I asked a woman walking 3 dogs if she wanted to trade places. She offered me a dog, and said it would pull me along! At one point I wasn’t sure which way to go, but asked someone and made the right turn. Coming up the finishing chute, I saw Mauro and Lisa, who cheered me to the finish line! I was pretty happy with how my very first snowshoe running race had gone. It was challenging and super fun!

Afterwards, racers were given a bowl of chili and a hot drink (hot chocolate for me). I changed into dry, warm clothes, and headed home.

I was very impressed with the venue and the organization of the race. Well done Barrie and crew!

img_8667

Pretty, freshly fallen snow.

Race stats:

Time: 54:42.6 (28:20.7 for the snowshoe segment, and 26:21.9 for the running segment, including the transition and me fumbling to quickly remove my snowshoes!)

Overall place: 6/6

Gender place: 4/4

By comparison, had I entered the 4k snowshoe race (no run afterwards), I would have placed 4/19!

I’m looking forward to doing more snowshoe races next winter!

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyrapaterson

Posted in Running race reports, snowshoeing, winter | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Race report: Stars W.A.R. snowshoe orienteering race

Looking back now at the jumble of highlighting on my race map, I should have known how this race was going to go!

This was to be our first time participating in a STARS Orienteering Club race, and our second time doing an orienteering race on snowshoes (the Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid was our first a few short weeks ago). Just shy of being experts, us.

We arrived at the Mansfield Outdoor Centre a little before race kit pick-up at 9 AM. We wanted as much time as possible to plan our route and get ourselves ready. It was a relief to see that there was plenty of snow for a snowshoe race! We grabbed a table, settled in, and then got our maps and bonus socks. There weren’t any instructions with the map, so we weren’t sure whether we could find the controls in any order we wanted to, or whether there were specific things we needed to know (other than the fact that we had 2 1/2 hours to find as many controls as we could). We figured that the controls joined by solid lines needed to be done consecutively.

It wasn’t too long before a couple of people went around the tables giving instructions and answering questions. Then Rebecca and I set out planning our route. We decided to stick to the East side of the race course, not crossing the road toward the ski hills. We optimistically figured out the bearings for 12 checkpoints, including 3 pairs that would get us bonus points – the idea was that if you did the 2 checkpoints within each pair one after the other without finding any other checkpoints in between, you got the bonus. We figured if we were doing well time-wise, we could add a few checkpoints on our way back to the finish! (As Helen Keller once said, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”)

screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-3-34-31-pm

Planning our route pre-race.

We wrote the bearings on our map, along with approximate distances between checkpoints, and this time, we highlighted our route on the map. Then another racer sitting at our table mentioned that the table we were working on had metal in it, and that the metal would affect our compass bearings! Yikes! I held my compass in the air on top of my map, took a bearing again, and sure enough, he was right! It was off by about 5 degrees. So, we decided to figure out our bearings during the race, comparing them to our written bearings as we went (Note: I have since learned that while the metal table affects the needle, it wouldn’t affect the bearing, since you don’t use the needle to take a bearing! Thanks Michael!). After multiple trips to the bathroom, it was time for a short pre-race briefing, and then we were off to the start line. We each had a camelbak with water and snacks. I also carried a small first aid kit, extra socks and gloves.

32353420320_a636381111_o

We’ve decided that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of clothes worn by racers (and the gear carried) and the speed with which they run.

32579594802_cea676dd14_o

Just before the race started, we snapped one last selfie!

img_8591

And then, the race began! We all ran for the control just in front of us that denoted the official start of the race – it wasn’t an actual control, so we didn’t  have to put our timing chips into it.

Rebecca and I headed East with just a couple other teams, while everyone else (there were 25 teams in total) headed West. We wondered why, but stuck to our planned route! Our first checkpoint, #136, was easy to find, but by the time I got there, I was hot and needed to switch my winter hat for my baseball cap and headband, and remove a 2nd layer of gloves! Next we headed for #137, which was part way up a steep hill, and quickly realized that things weren’t quite as far as the map made us think. We continued up the hill and found #135. Things were going well, and we were feeling confident! We were doing a run/walk combination, and seeming to make good time. At one point though, I realized that I wasn’t holding my map anymore, so we backtracked about 100m and I found it. We knew that I hadn’t dropped it too far away, based on when I last had it (at the last control, checking a bearing). Sometimes we followed trails, and sometimes we went off-trail. On the trails we avoided the cross-country skiers and the classic ski grooves! At one point, we clearly looked lost, as a cross-country skier said to us, “This is a red trail!” Completely useless to us, but she was trying to be helpful!

img_8594

Yay! A control!

We found #46, then made our way to #45, which we had to find immediately after #46 if we wanted to get a 25 point bonus. It was in this section, where pre-race I had highlighted straight lines between controls before realizing that what I meant to do was highlight our actual planned route (mostly along trails), that we got turned around. We figured we weren’t where we thought we were, backtracked, scratched our heads, and tried to re-orient ourselves to the map. Eventually, I looked up, and there was the control. We learned our lesson – sometimes we need to just look up!! We likely spent 30 minutes on that single control.

From that point on, things went downhill, fast. We had lost our confidence, and kept second guessing ourselves. For the life of us we could not find #43. It didn’t help that when a couple of teams went by us, they didn’t head into the woods where we were. Had they already found the control? Were they heading for a different one? Why were we the only ones looking for it? The hint on the map said that it was at a “re-entrant”. We wondered, “What the heck is a re-entrant!?” Clearly we need to work on our land formation terminology! In the end, we saw the clock ticking and realized we had to give up on it. It was looking like we should be heading back to the finish time to get back  without incurring penalties (10 points per minute over the 2 1/2 hours).

We got quite confused and really weren’t sure where we were on the map, but we knew we had to go south and West. Eventually we encountered a couple of other teams. We talked to one and they clearly knew which way they were going, which sort of helped us figure out which way we needed to go.

As we headed back toward the finish line, we hoped we’d spot the orange fence that was at top of the steep hill that we climbed at the beginning. We noticed that we must be close to the cliff, as the trees seemed to drop off, but when we went to the edge, we decided there was no way we were picking our way down that – it was far too steep and would have been slow going. We never would have made it back in time.

Finally, we spotted the fence and it seemed more likely that we would get back within 2 1/2 hours. What a relief. We descended the hill, and met a photographer on our way down. Such great shots! Obviously we were having fun.

We ran to the finish line, and ended up beating the cut off by more than 5 minutes (grateful for small victories!). We didn’t find as many controls as we would have liked to, but we had so much fun. It was actually quite neat to have gone in the direction that most teams didn’t, because for a large chunk of the race, we saw no other racers! (And that’s not because we were completely off track – I promise!) The weather was perfect. The location very pretty. The sport awesome!

After the race we enjoyed a lunch of chili, a bun, and some desserts. We chatted with other racers, and learned about an adventure race called the Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race, a paddling/biking/running race in Wiarton in August. We’ve since registered!

Race stats:

Time: 2:24:55

Points: 155 (130 from controls and 25 bonus)

Placing: 5/5 female teams, and 23/25 all teams

You can check out the full results here.

The STARS Orienteering Club did a great job organizing and running this race. We’ll definitely be back!! Thank you!

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyrapaterson

Posted in Orienteering, snowshoeing, winter | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment