Thru-hike of the 80 km La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park (without sleeping)

“Which campsite are you staying at tonight?” a fellow backpacker asked us as we hiked along the trail. When told that we were going all the way to George Lake, he replied, “No seriously, which campsite?” “Seriously,” Rebecca replied. And then the next morning, more than 24 hours into our hike, a woman in a group of four backpackers asked us, “So what campsite did you come from?” “Well, we started hiking at 6:38 yesterday morning and we’re going all the way to the end without stopping.” They looked at us incredulously. We wished each other well and parted ways.

View from The Crack.

The idea of hiking the entire 80 km La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park without stopping to sleep came to me as I considered different ways to train for Wilderness Traverse, a 24-hour adventure race. I have friends who had done the hike in one go before, and knew that it would provide an opportunity to practice exercising for a long period of time, to work out nutrition strategies, and to see how our team dynamics fared. We chose early October for our hike, and set about planning what we would carry with us, including food. I also got tips from my equally crazy friends, which helped us to settle on a counter-clockwise route (easier ending). I knew what kind of terrain to expect because I had previously hiked the entire trail (in 8 days going clockwise). The Friends of Killarney Park’s La Cloche Silhouette Trail Guide is a great resource, as is the park’s Backcountry Hiking and Canoe Route Map.

While my friend and adventure racing teammate Rebecca and I would be hiking (we are team “Define Lost”), our friend and support crew Jen would stay at base camp at George Lake. I would be carrying my Garmin InReach (satellite communicator) to allow our friends and family to follow our progress, and to get help if needed.

The Hike

We decided to start hiking approximately one hour before sunrise. Our alarms went off at 5 AM, and after oatmeal for breakfast and final preparations, we grabbed the last few snacks from the cooler and at 6:38 AM with headlamps on, we started walking! It was Tuesday, October 5. The temperature was supposed to reach around 17 degrees Celsius, and fall to around 12 C feeling like 11 C overnight. There was no rain in the forecast, and it hadn’t rained since we arrived on the Sunday. We were fortunate to have dry, cool conditions! The trail can be treacherous when wet.

Go time!

Killarney Ridge Section

Right off the bat we had to climb a hill – of course! The La Cloche Silhouette Trail goes up and down and up and down and up some more! We opted to wear our trail running shoes and to use hiking poles – I can’t imagine doing the trail without them. We carried 40 litre packs with 3 litre water bladders, plus a 600 ml squishable water bottle each with a filter that we used to refill our bladders. We had intended to use water purifying droplets but didn’t use them in the end. See below for a full packing list.

Our goal was to eat approximately 150-200 calories every hour. I had packed all of my snacks into individual portions, some sweet, some salty, and some other things. See below for a spreadsheet showing all the food I brought, and for info on what I ate – and didn’t! After hiking for hours and hours, some things became less and less appealing. We were reasonably successful at eating on schedule – at least earlier in the hike!

We learned early in the hike that our friends and family were not able to see our progress on the map as intended, however the update messages I sent were automatically accompanied by our location, so Jen was able to follow along with her Killarney map. In addition, each time I sent a message I noted how far we had walked and where we were (e.g. campsite number). It wasn’t until I came home that I realized my error – I had set my account to only share map data after November 1 instead of October 1! Lesson learned.

Beautiful fall colours.

The last part of this first section of the trail is the climb up The Crack, probably the most technically challenging part of the trail, as you have to scramble up rocks, including big boulders with no easy steps. We encountered a few people in this area. By the time we reached the top, we had covered 9.5 km. Unfortunately we had to walk through cigarette smoke as we crested the top, but then we were rewarded with beautiful views.

The next time we checked the InReach to see how far we had gone, it was only 12.5 km, which was rather demoralizing. We realized then that our loose goal of 30 hours was likely unattainable. From that point on we checked the InReach infrequently, so as not to be disappointed too frequently (but enough to share our progress with friends and family).

Using the data from my InReach, you will see that I was able to piece together a comprehensive picture of our progress along the trail.

Killarney Ridge Section Summary:

  • 6:38 AM – Left George Lake campsite #53
  • 6:53 AM – Eastern terminus of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail/Started Killarney Ridge Section
  • 7:02 AM – Sign to H54 (A. Y. Jackson Lake)
  • 7:13 AM – H53 (Little Sheguiandah Lake)
  • 7:36 AM – Sunrise
  • 7:44 AM – H52/H51 (Wagon Road Lake)
  • 8:32 AM – H50 (Sealey Lake)
  • 9:32 AM – The Crack

Silver Peak Section

Along the trail we saw an incredible variety of fungi. I didn’t want to slow us down by continually stopping to take pictures, but I did take a few. There was one kind of mushroom in particular that looked as if it had been coated with shellac – it was so shiny!

We saw a few people as we approached the trail to Silver Peak, but we had already planned to skip this climb (and the gorgeous views).

We knew that before too long we would be hiking in the dark. Mentally, it was hard to see tents set up at H38 and to know that we had to keep walking. Oh how nice it would have been to curl up in a cozy sleeping bag!

Silver Peak Section Summary:

  • 10:52 AM – Started Silver Peak Section
  • 11:32 AM – Sign to H49 (Little Superior Lake)/H48 (Proulx Lake)
  • 1:18 PM – H47 (Heaven Lake)
  • 2:04 PM – Sign to H46/H45 (Bunnyrabbit Lake)
  • 3:55 PM – Sign to H38/H37 (Silver Lake)
  • 4:55 PM – Intersection with trail to Silver Peak

Hansen Township Section

As darkness approached and we prepared to climb and then walk up high along the ridge for a while, we made sure to stop for water at David Lake so that we didn’t run out without access to more. I don’t remember how many times we filled our bladders during the hike, but I do know that we used lakes and fast-flowing creeks to do so. Our water stops were slightly longer than our other stops. When we didn’t need water, we stopped for 10-15 minutes to go to the bathroom, get more food from our packs to put into the accessible pockets at our hips, look at the map, rest our backs, and ask – again – why we ever thought this was a good idea.

After we left David Lake, we walked in anticipation of climbing and coming upon a long section of exposed quartzite rock. This is clearly what I was remembering from my previous hike along this part of the trail. In the darkness, navigation became more challenging. Our goal for hiking overnight was to make as much forward progress as possible and to not get lost! We followed the blue trail markers (only a few were reflective) and the rock cairns. A few times, we lost the trail and had to backtrack, but never very far! At one point in the night the trail started to seem less like a trail, and then there was a tree right in front of me that I had to push through to continue. At this point, despite being tired from lack of sleep, we realized we must have missed a turn and retraced our steps. Sure enough, we went down at one point instead of up. What were we thinking – of course we should have CLIMBED again!

Rock cairn marking the trail.

We walked and walked and walked, and it seemed like we would never reach the quartzite ridge that I was expecting. We walked on quartzite, but then we went into the forest again, and then out onto the rock, and then into the forest – and repeat. It wasn’t as I remembered it. We kept walking. We didn’t check the map frequently in this section. At one point, we stopped for a quick break, looked at the map, and were overjoyed to discover that we had finished the Hansen Township Section! This called for high fives!! We were further along than we expected, and we got a massive mental boost!

At one point overnight I got cold during a rest break, so I dug out my blue puffy jacket, which did the trick! Otherwise I wore just a t-shirt and shorts for the entire hike, except for the very beginning when I had pant legs on as well.

Hansen Township Section Summary:

  • 4:55 PM – Started Hansen Township Section
  • 6:16 PM – David Lake water stop
  • 6:26 PM – Signs to H35 (Boundary Lake)/H34 (David Lake)
  • 6:56 PM – Sunset
  • 9:06 PM – Sign to H33 (Little Mountain Lake)
  • 10:16 PM – Sign to H32/H31 (Shigaug Lake)

Threenarrows Section

Sadly, the high from discovering that we were further along than expected didn’t last too long! It seemed we had been walking for quite some time, so long that I was sure we must have just missed the sign to H21. So when we eventually reached a campsite, we looked at the sign with trepidation… only to discover it said H21. So disheartening!

While I thought it might be scary to walk for 12 hours in the pitch dark, imagining all the creatures big and small that we might encounter, in fact I didn’t find it scary at all! And we saw some pretty cool creatures in the night. Low to the ground I kept seeing very small lights, which I knew weren’t fireflies. I wondered if they were just water droplets, and then I got close to one – it was a spider! Actually, it was the spider’s eyes that were reflecting the light from our headlamps! Once I knew what they were, I saw them everywhere!! One small plant had 3 spiders within a very small space. In the night we also saw 2 salamanders within a foot of each other right on the trail, as well as toads and a mouse. During the day, we saw (and heard!) countless ruffed grouse (one scared the heck out of me!), a pileated woodpecker, a bird that was likely an owl, a frog, lots of chipmunks and squirrels, nuthatches and a dragonfly. I also walked through many cobwebs! The only bear we saw was very close to the George Lake campground office the day before we started our hike!

At one of our overnight rest stops, we turned off our headlamps and looked up at the stars – wow! What a view! Not too much later, both of our headlamps gave warning flashes that the batteries were dying. We put new ones in and were back in business!

At one point, we had to descend a waterfall in the dark. The step down was too big for either of us to actually be able to take a step, so we had to bum scoot down. I thought my footing was solid, but my foot slipped on the wet rock, and I ended up on my butt in the water! Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for my shorts and underwear to dry!

It’s hard to describe what it was like to walk for 12 hours in the dark. It was long. It was tiring. I was counting down the hours until the sun would rise!

I was hoping that the sunrise would give us a big mental boost, but after the initial joy of seeing the sun coming up, it became overcast and there wasn’t much sun to celebrate!

Sunrise on the trail.

However, the sun was up and I was grateful! Our new goal was to finish before it set again (really!).

Threenarrows Section Summary:

  • 12:36 AM – Started Threenarrows Section
  • 12:43 AM – Sign to H23 (no lake)
  • 1:18 AM – Sign to H22 (unnamed lake)
  • 2:13 AM – Waterfall descent
  • 3:41 AM – Sign to H21 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 5:12 AM – Signs to H20 (unnamed Lake) and H59 (Bodina Lake)
  • 6:47 AM – Sign to H19 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 7:02 AM – Sign to H18 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 7:38 AM – Sunrise
  • 8:02 AM – Sign to H17 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 10:02 AM – H16 (Threenarrows Lake)/water stop
  • 11:06 AM – Sign to H8 (Threenarrows Lake)/start of long walk around the dam

Baie Fine Section

I mentioned the hills – the neverending hills – but I haven’t yet mentioned the mud! We each carried with us a 2nd pair of trail running shoes, with the intent that we would keep one pair dry. Before starting our hike, I envisioned changing into my spare pair for any necessary water crossings. However, within the first few km of the trail, our feet were already wet. There were so many creek crossings, and so many unavoidable puddles, that we never changed our shoes, and instead had wet feet the entire time. This, as you can imagine, is not ideal. But in case we got stuck on the trail for much longer than expected (e.g. if one of us got injured), I wanted to have dry shoes!

Rebecca tackling yet another creek crossing.

At some point, Rebecca started getting hot spots on her feet, which she treated with blister stuff. For me, the last 20 km were excruciating on my feet as I had developed blisters on the outsides of my baby toes. Downhills were the worst. I tried treating them (at which point Rebecca very briefly fell asleep while laying on her back with her backpack on!) but given that my feet were sweating and I continued to step in puddles and mud, nothing stuck!

Another thing that we both experienced during this hike was hearing and seeing things that weren’t there. So many times Rebecca or I would think we heard people talking. At one point (during the day, once we had hiked past the dam), I thought I saw someone in an orange jacket sitting along the shore in a chair. I looked again and only saw leaves. Just before we reached the Pig, I pointed out a backpack to Rebecca, which was sitting on the trail with no person in sight. But as we got closer, I realized it was a fallen tree. Other times I saw bear-like shapes (in bark, in trees). The mind sure does play tricks in times of sleep deprivation!

While the Baie Fine section of the trail was the flattest, it seemed to stretch forever!

A sinking bridge.

We kept thinking that we were getting close to George Lake and the bridge that marks the end of the trail (“Look! A clearing in the forest!”), but the trail just kept on going. And then finally, unbelievably, we saw the bridge! We stopped for a quick picture, then headed up the hill to the park road. Once we hit the road, wow! We had the strangest feeling in our feet. First, the road felt like it was moving, and second, the road was so incredibly hard on our feet!

We made our way to our campsite, where Jen was jumping up and down excitedly! It was so awesome to have a support crew waiting for us! She had cooked homemade macaroni and cheese for us, chopped up a whack load of vegetables, and offered to do anything we needed – get dry shoes and socks, get cold drinks, get clothes, anything! We plunked ourselves down in our chairs for a few minutes and had cold drinks. We removed our shoes, and hobbled to the comfort station for showers (me wearing Jen’s flip flops because I couldn’t tolerate shoes anymore on my blisters)! I even used a hair dryer (for the first time ever while camping), since I didn’t want to go to bed with wet hair. We sat at the roaring campfire for a few minutes telling Jen about our adventures before sleep called our names! Shoutout to Killarney Outfitters for having dry firewood! We bought lots after a disappointing campfire our first night in the park trying to get the wet park wood to burn!

Thank you Jen for being the best ever support crew, and Rebecca for always being up for an adventure, no matter how ridiculous.

DONE!

Baie Fine Section Summary:

  • 1:06 PM – Started Baie Fine Section
  • 1:16 PM – The Pig (steepest portage in the park)
  • 2:57 PM – Sign to H6 (Cave Lake)
  • 3:02 PM – Sign to H5 (Cave Lake)
  • 4:27 PM – Signs to H4/H3 (Acid Lake)
  • 4:57 PM – Sign to H2 (Lumsden Lake)
  • 5:17 PM – Sign to H1 (Lumsden Lake)
  • 6:15 PM – Western terminus of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail/Finished Baie Fine Section
  • 6:24 PM – Arrived at George Lake campsite

As my friend Heidi said, “You are so ready for this but don’t underestimate the challenge.” She was right! While the trail is physically demanding, the hardest part for sure was the mental battle. The further we got into our hike, the more frequent our short breaks became, and the harder it was to get going again (physically and mentally)!

I wouldn’t recommend a thru-hike as a way to see the sights and appreciate the beauty of the trail, but it definitely gave us experience exercising for a long period of time, and taught us what foods we do – and don’t! – want to face after hours and hours of exercise. We also got a chance to test out our team dynamics over a much longer period of time than our longest race to date so far – approximately 14 hours.

What an experience!!

Food

In planning our hike, we estimated that it would take us approximately 30 hours (a pace of 2.7 km/h). However, we wanted to bring extra food in case it took longer. Based on previous experiences racing, plus research we had done (including advice from friends who had done this before), we planned to eat 150-200 calories per hour. I brought 37 different snacks with me, a total of 41 servings. Near the beginning of the hike, I suggested that we play a game and try to remember the order in which we ate our snacks. I thought it might help keep us awake during the long night! But after eggs, bar, muffin, something, I stopped trying!

I ate the eggs first since they were not going to stay cold for long. My favourite snacks were the pickle, olives, moon cheese and dill chips! I also loved the lemon square. The further and further we got into our hike, the dryer and dryer I found some of the foods to be – for example, I had to wash down chickpeas, my PB&honey sandwich, and the Pro bar PB chocolate chip with water to be able to swallow them. And as we spent more and more time on the trail, sweet things appealed less and less to me. I could never face the chocolate bar, boiled sweet potatoes, Endurance Tap, and most of my homemade bars and energy balls.

While in the end I had too much food, I don’t regret bringing all of it. If one of us had been injured and we had been forced to stop on the trail, we would have needed it! I did learn, however, that I need more salty snacks and less sweet snacks.

At the suggestion of my friend Barb, Rebecca and I had each packed “mystery” snacks, to pull out when we deemed appropriate! Mine was so sweet that by the time we talked about it, neither of us wanted one! Rebecca had brought Goldschläger (Swiss cinnamon schnapps), which she thought could be helpful in the night if we were cold! We didn’t have that either.

Packing list

Note: I am not sponsored by any companies. I bought all of the items that I used.

Worn:

  • Gregory Zulu 40 litre backpack
  • Topo Athletic Mtn Racer Trail Running Shoes 6
  • T-shirt, pants with lots of pockets and detachable legs, underwear, bra, compression socks

Carried:

  • Tubbs hiking poles
  • Garmin InReach
  • Map in waterproof pouch
  • Compass
  • Bear spray (Rebecca also carried a horn)
  • Bear bell
  • 3 litre water bladder
  • Katadyn BeFree Microfilter with Hydrapak 0.6 litre flask
  • Water treatment tablets
  • Sun screen
  • First aid kit
  • Petzl Actik core headlamp
  • AAA batteries
  • Lightweight emergency bivy bag
  • Sunglasses
  • Cell phone
  • Flint and fire starter
  • Swiss army knife
  • Contact lenses and solution
  • Toilet paper
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Camera
  • Altra Lone Peak 5 trail running shoes
  • Running socks (2 pairs)
  • Hat – lightweight/squishy baseball
  • Hat – lightweight running
  • Hat – winter
  • Running gloves
  • Long john pants and long sleeve top
  • Blue puffy compressible jacket
  • Rain coat and pants
  • Food!

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Storm the Trent Trek Elite Race 2021

Lack of race specific training be damned, I was grateful to make it to the start line of my first multi-sport race with an orienteering component since 2019! With Covid-19 precautions in place, this year’s Storm the Trent races (Trek Elite, Trek and Hike) would be spread over 3 days, with each team arriving no sooner than 1 hour before their assigned start time, and with no post race award celebrations or hot meals.

Instead, there was a pre-recorded race briefing to watch at home, and race maps were provided days in advance, reducing time spent at race headquarters and the usual gathering of athletes pre-race to plan out routes.

With a start time of 7:40 AM, my teammate Rebecca and I arrived at 6:40 AM, unloaded my canoe and our paddles, PFDs, bailer and rope, picked up our maps (one main map plus two supplementary maps), had our temperatures checked by a nurse and answered Covid-19 screening questions again, dropped off our bikes, helmets, and bike shoes, and used the portapotties. I was a bit scattered, forgetting to drop my helmet off (leaving it on my head), then almost forgetting my gloves (for paddling and biking). The weather was overcast with a predicted high of 15C, so I was a little conflicted about what to wear. In the end I chose cycling shorts, long pants, and a t-shirt, which worked well. I carried extra clothes in my backpack along with food, water, and the rest of the mandatory gear. When I thought I would be paddling in my raincoat I tucked my compass in the pocket. Good thing I stuffed my coat into my backpack. We portaged our paddling stuff down to the water, me the canoe and Rebecca the paddles, PFDs, bailer and rope.

When it was almost go time, I realized I was wearing my backpack but not my PFD!

Foreshadowing course conditions?

Paddle to CP 20, 21, 22

Four teams were assigned each 10 minute starting time slot, but we weren’t the only ones running a little late. One hour wasn’t quite enough to do everything we needed to do. In any case, around 7:50 AM Rebecca punched the start clock with our SI card and we pushed off from shore.

Teams could visit the 3 checkpoints in any order, so we decided to go counter-clockwise. The checkpoints were floating signs, with words on them that we needed to memorize or write down. “See you at” “the finish line” “go get it” (or something like that!).

Save for a very short paddle in summer 2020 to test whether my hand injury was healed, I hadn’t been in a canoe since the summer of 2019. Rebecca was in a similar boat. Other than slightly overshooting the entrance to a narrow passage that we needed to take to another lake, the paddle went well. My hands cramped at times but otherwise I felt fine (my still-recovering rib injury from my MTB crash in June didn’t cause me any trouble). The 9k took us about 1 hour 25 minutes.

It was super fun to see so many familiar faces out on the water, people I hadn’t seen in ages because of Covid!

While the floating checkpoints were not manned by volunteers, the single digit checkpoints were. We had to check in with the (awesome!) volunteers at these ones so they could have a general idea of where each team was out on the course.

Bike to CP 2

After portaging the canoe 800m back to race headquarters (up a steep hill from the waterfront), we chowed down on homemade lemon squares (yum!) while getting into our bike shoes and putting our helmets on. I briefly joined a FaceTime call of another team yet to start (hi random stranger!), and then we headed out on our bikes. The rolling hills started quickly and didn’t let up all day! The ride to CP 2 was on a gravel road.

Run to CP 30, 31

At CP 2 we left our bikes and headed on foot in search of CP 30 and 31. Again we went in a counter-clockwise direction. These checkpoints were on trail and other than slightly overshooting “The Pass” trail, this section was pretty straightforward. Again, these checkpoints could be done in any order.

Bike to CP 3, CP 4, CP 5

Back at CP 2 we grabbed our bikes and headed to CP 3. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a great way to carry the map. In the past I had tucked the maps in a waterproof bag up the leg of my shorts, but I was wearing long pants. I used bungees to attach it to my handlebars, but it was a time consuming process and not very secure. I had to continually attach and detach the map bag from my bike as we switched between biking to trekking and back again. Next time I’ll use carabiners and rope and hang it around my neck. (I used a new map case too, and it leaked! Our maps got soaked and ripped when we had to flip them. Not sure if the case is poorly designed or I didn’t close it properly!)

Until this point, the bike course route was marked – we had to follow signs and not choose our own route. But at CP 3, this changed. We left the road and followed a trail that had some “big ups!” as one guy yelled coming back the other way. I wasn’t sure at that moment if he meant “big ups” as in “push hard” and you’ll get there… but it later became clear he simply meant that there were multiple big hills to climb! I think this is the first section where we had to get off our bikes and push them up a steep hill. Getting close to CP 4, someone told us this was the last uphill before the checkpoint. Of course that would have been true had we not overshot the right turn heading to the CP… instead, we ended up riding down a huge downhill, hitting a main paved road and realizing our mistake. This meant we had to climb back up the massive hill. Sigh. We found our missed turn and reached CP 4. Rebecca asked if we could go back through the field (rather than along the road) and the volunteer said that that’s what most people were doing. So, we followed the path made by other teams through bushes and over rocks and pushed our bikes uphill… not sure it was any easier than the road would have been! All that uphill from CP 3 to 4 meant we had lots of downhill back to CP 3 (poor course conditions removed about 15k of the bike course, sending us back to CP 3 and then to CP 5, skipping CPs 32 and 33). We were not for a second disappointed that part of the bike course was cut out!

The “ride” from CP 3 to CP 5 was crazy – so much mud! We did a lot of pushing our bikes through mud pits in this section.

Run to CP 40, 42, 43

Back at CP 5 we left our bikes and headed on foot to CP 40, 42, and 43. As we started out we heard someone say that it was bad… and got worse. Once again, we were following a trail, and when we planned out our route, we were optimistic. How hard could the navigation be? Once again, we chose a counter-clockwise direction. In hindsight, this was a mistake. We found CP 40 without difficulty, as well as the very scenic CP 42 (at a fast-flowing creek), and then CP 43 up a very steep hill (we decided to follow the trail rather than bushwhack). This is where things went haywire.

From a trail junction (we knew exactly where we were), I took a bearing with my compass, but it made no sense. There was an air bubble in it, so I figured the compass was toast. I asked Rebecca for hers, and took the bearing again. The direction made sense. We would head for The Outlook trail, and when we hit it, we would continue along it until we reached an intersection, at which point we would turn right and head along that trail back to CP 5. However, the trail we were looking for was running the same direction as we would be walking – see the problem? With even a small error in the bearing, we would miss the trail completely. However, we knew that even if we missed it, we would eventually reach the trail that would take us out. Rebecca was counting steps (to measure our distance), and I was following the bearing. We didn’t find the trail we were looking for, and Rebecca said “as long as we don’t find the lake”… and then we noticed a clearing… which turned out to be a marshy area that wasn’t so easy to cross. We skirted the outside (finding an area where large animals had bedded down in the process), and eventually got back into the woods. The map didn’t have a marsh on it (near where we thought we were), so we weren’t sure exactly where we were. We continued following the bearing, in the process seeing tons of cool mushrooms. We also heard a Barred Owl! I think I heard a Ruffed Grouse in this area too. And then finally, we hit the trail! We turned right, and after walking for longer than we expected to, Rebecca said that if we hit the intersection with The Outlook trail she was going to cry… and then we hit just that. Sigh. We had gone too far left, adding distance to our trek. We should have listened to a guy way earlier in the trek leg who tried to tell us to go the other way on that trail… it would have been much easier to bushwhack the other way.

Blue = original planned route (until we saw cliff at 40 on our counter-clockwise way around the loop and wondered if it might be impassible), green = new route, and red = what actually happened on our way from CP 43 to CP 5. Hello marsh!

By the time we reached the trail it was raining and the ground was super slick with mud. Rebecca and I both fell going down hills. How could I forget to mention the hills? At one point I heard 2 athletes coming towards us, one saying that the Race Director was “evil”. I couldn’t disagree! Shortly before reaching CP 5 a team came out of the woods onto the trail, and asked us if we were looking for CP 5. They too had had an interesting bushwhacking leg!

Still smiling after our off-trail adventures. Thanks Heather for the great pic!

Bike to CP 6 and 7

We jumped onto our bikes and headed for CPs 6 and 7, back on the gravel road and up and down the never ending hills.

Whee! A downhill!

A few times in this section we had to ride through water that had crested the road. At least once our feet were submerged in the “puddle” (AKA lake!) as we rode through it. Fun!

Photo courtesy of Storm Racing.

CP 7 Optional advanced section

At CP 7 there was an optional advanced trekking section. We opted out, figuring we were expert enough already with no need to test our skills (that, or we were beat and had had enough. Plus we might have missed the 5 pm cut-off to start this section anyway)!

Bike to CP 53

Instead, we checked in and out of CP 7 and headed for CP 53 and the finish line! After more road riding, we turned onto a mostly dry trail. We were looking for CP 53, which I assumed would be right off the trail (i.e. we couldn’t miss it). But riders coming towards us asked if we had found it. When we said no, they said that it was behind us – we had missed it, as had they. They had reached the finish line and turned around to find it. It was further off the trail than we expected, but once we spotted it, Rebecca put our SI stick into the card reader, and then we turned and headed for the finish!

Bike to finish

And just like that (9 hours 29 minutes and 10 seconds later), we were done!

Done!

We hosed off our muddy bikes, got changed, packed up our stuff, and headed home.

Our route!

Thank you Storm Racing for another fantastic race. Such a beautiful setting at the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve. See you next year!

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Race report: Welland Rose City triathlon double header (sprint and give-it-a-tri)

Why do one triathlon on a Saturday when you can do two? It wasn’t my idea (really!), but it didn’t take long for me to agree to end the 2021 triathlon season with a bang by doing back to back races in Welland. The International Flatwater Centre is a fantastic venue, and Multisport Canada puts on great races in the Rose City. Covid-19 precautions were in effect, with masks in transition and at registration, a covid check, and races spread over 3 days with less athletes in each race.

When we received an email with our individual starts times a few days before the race, we realized that we would have less than an hour between races, and race kit pickup for the give-it-a-tri would start – and end – while we were doing the sprint race. But on race morning Alasdair got it all sorted out – the race crew knew that two crazy people would be coming to register late!

When we first arrived at the venue we accidentally racked our bikes on the give-it-a-tri rack, but we hadn’t set our things up, so when we realized our mistake it was easy to switch to the sprint racks. I left my bike, went through registration, and then got my things organized. I put on my wetsuit and headed down the stairs to the water. I had lots of time before my race, so I watched other people start, found some shade to wait in, then eventually found a random athlete to zip me up! I did a short warm up swim, found Alasdair, and waited for athlete #86 to be called to the start line!

Sprint triathlon

750 m swim

Almost ready to go!

For this race, we were seeded based on our predicted finish times (of the swim? or the entire race? I can’t remember). This meant that the fastest athletes would start first, and the slowest last. One swimmer would start every 30 seconds. The swim start was incredibly well organized. There was a 2-sided digital clock so the race crew and the athletes in the water warming up could read it. My start time was 11:42:30, so a couple of minutes before that I was called up, and went into the water from the dock. I treaded water until my start time, then when the clock hit 11:42:30, I started. Alasdair must have forgotten to seed himself when he registered, because he was placed nearly at the back of the pack 20 minutes after me!

If you’ve been following my triathlon adventures this summer, you will know that I’ve had mini panic attacks on the swim for each of my races so far, the Barrie sprint, Gravenhurst sprint, and Gravenhurst Olympic. Well I’m not sure if it was the solo start, but I had the most relaxed swim of any triathlon yet this summer! My only issue was a bit of water in my goggles, which I quickly tipped out. I was so relieved to have a good swim!

I made my way up the stairs to transition, took the rest of my wetsuit off at my bike, put on my helmet, sunglasses, socks, shoes, and race bib and headed out with my bike. It was quite a long run to the bike mount line.

20k bike

The bike was 5 loops of a closed road course which is relatively flat. There are two 180 degree turns per lap (and two 90 degree turns) – it’s a backwards L shape. As I started my 3rd loop, Alasdair started his 1st. He passed me and then I chased him for the remainder of the ride. Athletes had to count their own laps, or use a bike computer or watch, or use the Sportstats clock on the race course (hard to read when you’re riding fast!). Thankfully, I didn’t lose track! After my 5th lap it was a long run back into transition. I racked my bike, removed my helmet, put on my hat, changed my shoes, and headed out the run exit.

5k run

The run was 2 loops on a path along the recreational waterway. It was while running that I really started thinking how crazy it was to be doing another race after this one. I even considered not doing it, and just cheering for Alasdair! Speaking of Alasdair, as I was starting my 2nd loop, he passed me on his 1st. One thing I’ve missed this year is seeing the age of other athletes on their legs (no body marking this year) – it helps to know if you should actually try to catch someone or keep ahead of them if you know that they’re in your age category! Of course, I might not have had any fight in me anyway!

I was grateful to cross the finish line, but didn’t have time to relax! I grabbed a mask, put it on, and went back to registration, where I confused the volunteers who looked at me funny trying to register while already wearing a race bib! We sorted things out quickly and off I went. I grabbed a juice box, downed that, and headed back to transition to move my bike and all my stuff to the give-it-a-tri rack. I organized my things again, forced myself to eat half a muffin so I wouldn’t be starving during the give-it-a-tri, and then at some point I found Alasdair. It was already time to go down to the water.

Race stats

  • Time: 1:42:56
  • Swim: 21:04 (2:48 min/100m)
  • T1: 1:58
  • Bike: 45:17 (27.82 km/h)
  • T2: 1:18
  • Run: 33:19 (6:39 min/km)
  • Women 45-49: 3/5
  • All women: 33/51
  • All athletes: 94/132

Give-it-a-try

400m swim

My start time for the give-it-a-tri was 2:02:00, with Alasdair 40 seconds behind me. I knew this meant that he would pass me during the swim. The swim course looked so short compared to the sprint course – I was so glad to have done the longer race first. When athlete #210 was called up, I headed for the start line. I had another relaxed swim (!), and before I knew it I was heading back to transition. Sure enough Alasdair beat me there, but he only headed out with his bike a few seconds before me.

12k bike

I was so disappointed when I found out that we had to do 3 laps of the bike course (12k), and not 2 (10k). I was mentally prepared for only 2! Thankfully, another 2k wasn’t a big deal. When I started biking I felt that my legs were definitely more tired than they were at the beginning of the sprint! I chased Alasdair the entire race, but it was a losing battle – he was pulling just slightly further ahead with each loop.

2.5k run

I spotted Alasdair heading out of transition on foot as I was running back in with my bike. The run was 1 loop of the course we ran in the morning. At this point, I was really glad that I was only doing it one more time! Alasdair passed me when I had between 500m and 1k to go. And then not a moment too soon I too crossed the finish line, for the second time that day!

Race stats

  • Time: 1:02:25
  • Swim: 12:09 (3:02 min/100m)
  • T1: 2:26
  • Bike: 29:08 (25.95 km/h)
  • T2: 1:31
  • Run: 17:11 (6:52 min/km)
  • Women 45-49: 3/5
  • All women: 16/51
  • All athletes: 43/101

After the second race we were finally able to relax! We chatted with Race Director Jason Vurma, then headed for the water to cool off before heading home.

With Race Director Jason Vurma

Thank you Multisport Canada for adapting and putting on races this summer! We were so thankful to be back racing. See you in 2022!

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Race report: Gravenhurst sprint and Olympic triathlon double header weekend 2021

If you think starting a triathlon by yelling “Cannonball!!!” and jumping off a boat is a great idea, then the Multisport Canada Gravenhurst race may be the one for you!

Alasdair and I decided to once again do both the sprint and Olympic races, with the sprint on the Saturday and the longer Olympic on the Sunday. We were very lucky to be spending the weekend nearby at our friends’ cottage.

Saturday sprint

Driving to the race site in the pouring rain, I wondered what the weather would have in store for us! However, the rain pretty much stopped as we arrived. Walking our bikes into transition, we passed 2 members of the race crew sweeping water off the road where we would be running our bikes out of and back in to transition.

As part of the Covid-19 protocol, we had to wear masks in the transition zone and at registration, and we had to show that we had done the Covid screening. I set my stuff up in transition and was ready to go (that’s Alasdair racked beside me)…

Using a bag to keep shoes dry.

… or so I thought! Good thing I realized a few minutes later that I hadn’t taken my helmet out of my big triathlon bag!

750m swim

There was one boat that would ferry athletes to the swim start, in 3 separate groups. Alasdair and I were lucky enough to be on the same boat and starting in the same swim wave (i.e. at the same time). I always like to be one of the first to jump off the ship in my wave so I have more time to swim over to the start line and relax for a couple of minutes before the race starts. Before jumping off I heard the announcer say that someone had done a back flip off the boat. I was the 2nd to jump off in our wave, with Alasdair right behind me.

When the horn sounded, I started swimming, but it wasn’t long before I had a mini panic attack, just like in Barrie a few weeks before (prior to this year, it had only happened once – during my first triathlon in 2010)! I did breast stroke, then front crawl with right side only breathing, then got my bilateral breathing back and all was good. The rest of the swim was fine!

I reached the ladders at the dock, looked at my watch and saw 20-something minutes. I climbed the ladder, and started running to transition. I unzipped my wetsuit, removed my arms from the sleeves, and then took off my swim cap and goggles. I crossed the road, and did the long run around and into transition, where I caught up to Alasdair, who was getting ready to ride.

I removed the rest of my wetsuit, put on my helmet, sunglasses, socks, shoes, and race belt, and took off (before Alasdair). “See you when you pass me!” I said.

20k bike

It didn’t take long before Alasdair passed me, after which I was pelted with very hard rain! Thankfully it didn’t last long. At the turnaround point (it was a hilly out and back course) he was less than 3 km ahead of me.

I felt strong on the bike leg and was happy with how it went.

Back in transition I racked my bike, removed my helmet, put on my hat, changed from cycling shoes to running shoes and took off.

5k run

Near the beginning of the run, which starts on a gravel path, someone cheered for me by name but I didn’t see who it was (I found out the next day it was Carley!). For once this run was not hot and humid! Normally the race is in July when it always seems to be uncomfortably hot! Instead the temperature was ideal. At some point before the turnaround, Alasdair and I passed each other. I felt strong during the run, and ran the entire hilly 5k, with the exception of a few steps when I walked while drinking from a cup.

Near the end of the run I spotted Alasdair waiting (and cheering) for me. As I neared the finish line I heard the announcer Steve Fleck say my name and call me the other half of the Paterson duo. I was glad to be done, and wondered how the next day’s race would go!

Unusual race spectator! Apparently its owners were also racing!

After the race we headed to Boston Pizza’s patio for our first meal at a restaurant in more than a year! The last time we ate at a restaurant was when we biked 30k for breakfast on a patio and then biked home.

Race stats:

  • Time: 1:41:29.8
  • Swim: 22:52.5 (3:02/100 m)
  • T1: 1:54
  • Bike: 42:20.1 (28.35 km/h)
  • T2: 1:09
  • Run: 33:15.9 (6:39/km)
  • Women 45-49: 5/6
  • All women: 57/97
  • All athletes: 184/280
Very cool t-shirt design!

Sunday Olympic

1500m swim

Once again, Alasdair and I were in the same swim wave, but this time, I was 1st to jump off. Then it was Alasdair. As he resurfaced, he said, “I lost my goggles! I forgot they were on my head!” He had forgotten to put them on his eyes before he jumped. Thankfully, there was a lifeguard right there on a floaty thing, and she ducked under the water and came up with them as they were on their way to the bottom of Lake Muskoka! “I love you!” Alasdair said. Crisis averted.

The race started and I felt that my breathing was good and I’d be fine this time – but then, sure enough, another mini panic attack! I completely lost my breathing rhythm. This time I did breast stroke longer, then did front crawl with right side only breathing for probably 100m. I figured I would calm down and start front crawl again. And it worked. I decided then that if it happened again, I would immediately switch to just breathing on the right.

Because I did the breaststroke for so long, and because there weren’t many swimmers in each wave, it wasn’t long before everyone was long gone and I felt completely on my own. By this time my breathing was fine, but I couldn’t see a soul, not even a lifeguard. “Am I alone out here?” I thought. “Are the lifeguards with the pack of swimmers ahead?” It was a slightly disconcerting feeling. I focussed on swimming in the right direction, because I didn’t want to end up in the wrong bay like I did once before!

Sometime after the 1000m mark (my watch beeps every 500m on the swim), I saw another swimmer!! I immediately thought that they had passed me, but then realized that was impossible – we were the last wave to jump off the ship, and the next wave had to be picked up at the dock and brought out to the start, meaning a 40 min gap between waves. I wasn’t that slow! I soon figured out that the silver swim cap meant the person actually started ahead of me, so I had caught someone. However, I knew I was swimming slowly when I got close to a lifeguard towards the end of the swim and she cheered for me, telling me that I was doing awesome and I was almost there! I told her I was having trouble seeing (my goggles kept fogging up). By the time I got to transition, Alasdair was long gone.

40k bike

Not only did the Olympic race double the length of the ride, but it also very likely doubled the number of hills! My legs were definitely more tired than for the sprint race, so I was biking more slowly.

10k run

However, my legs felt better than expected when I started the run. Once again, the extra distance on the run added a lot more hills! But like the day before, I ran the entire course except 2 times when I stopped to drink from a cup at an aid station. I find that if I give myself permission to walk, it’s the beginning of the end and I start walking more and more! At around the 3 1/2 k mark I spotted Alasdair running towards me. At the run turnaround one of the race crew, who clearly had seen me racing the day before, said “Two times?? Two times??” I was thankful to finally reach the last 1k of the run course, which meant the uphill sections were all done! Once again, Alasdair was waiting near the end of the run, ready to cheer me on. I was glad to be done! Overall, my pace was slightly slower than the day before, totally reasonable given that I didn’t start with fresh legs!

Race stats:

  • Time: 3:29:26.6
  • Swim: 45:24 (3:01 min/100m)
  • T1: 2:20
  • Bike: 1:30:39.2 (26.47 km/h)
  • T2: 2:00
  • Run: 1:09:05 (6:54 min/km)
  • Women 45-49: 5/6
  • All women: 51/62
  • All athletes: 220/269
Love the little person jumping off the boat!

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Race report: Barrie sprint triathlon 2021 (a return to racing after Covid-19 hiatus)

I’m not sure anyone was quite as excited to be back at a triathlon start line as one particular athlete in my wave at the Barrie triathlon – she whooped it up and let everyone know how much she loves the sport. I’ve never heard anything like it! She was pumped (and the rest of us couldn’t help but smile and laugh)!

It wasn’t too long ago that I was pretty resigned to the fact that there would be no race season at all for a second year in a row… and then Multisport Canada announced that races were on! Woot! We knew it wouldn’t be the usual triathlon racing experience, but we didn’t care – we were happy for the opportunity to get back out there. After a mountain bike crash in June (tire slipped on a wet root and I fell hard on my back) and a long recovery period, I was just relieved to be back swimming, biking and running 10 weeks later. Never mind I had only been swimming 2 times since the fall of 2019!

Our return to racing – and our first time doing the Barrie race (taken over by Multisport Canada this year) – would also be my friend Kris’ very first triathlon! Since we spent the night before the race at her place, she had 2 in-house triathlon coaches to ask for advice. And ask she did!

Pre-race in a time of Covid-19.

On race morning we didn’t arrive at the race site as early as we normally do, so by the time we set our stuff up in transition and got our wetsuits on, we had less than 15 minutes to go before we were to race! This added to the pre-race nerves. After a very quick warm up swim (just a few strokes!), I was ready to go.

Alasdair and I were lucky enough to be starting in the same swim wave, with Kris a couple of waves behind us.

Almost race time! [Photo by D]

I can’t tell you how great it was to hear familiar voices (like Steve Fleck at the microphone), see familiar faces, and to simply be back in the triathlon community again. I didn’t have any time goals for this race – getting to the start and finish lines would be enough for me this time!

750m SWIM

The horn sounded and off I went, wondering if my shoulder was going to give me any trouble (seems I upset it playing disc golf recently). Thankfully, my physiotherapist ensured that it didn’t! My swim started okay but it didn’t take long for me to have a mini panic attack after losing my breathing rhythm. I switched to the breaststroke, then front crawl with single-sided breathing on the left, then single-sided breathing on the right, then eventually I got my rhythm back, and by the time I hit the first turning buoy, it was all good. I figured I was swimming much slower than usual (since I hadn’t been practising!) and might see 30 minutes on my watch when I stood up, so I was pleasantly surprised to see 21 – still slower than usual, but not as slow as I expected. Then it was a long run into transition (I spotted Alasdair heading out with his bike as I was running in), peeling off the wetsuit, putting on my sunglasses, helmet, socks, shoes, and race bib, grabbing my bike and heading for the transition exit… but on the way there, I thought “Oh no! I forgot my race bib!” So I dropped my bike and ran back towards my stuff, but before I got there, I realized I was wearing it! So I ran back to my bike and off I went. Clearly this was a first race in nearly two years!

20km BIKE

The bike course was 4 loops with a slight uphill on the way out and a slight downhill on the way back. Unlike someone I know, I already knew how many loops to do – I didn’t have to do math to figure it out. I actually liked the looped course, which I’ve only done once before (at Welland). It meant I got to see Alasdair on every loop, and Kris twice when I was on my 3rd and 4th loops. The road was a little rough in some places, but otherwise, the ride was unremarkable. I will say though that not enough people said “On your left!” as they passed.

5km RUN

I ran my bike into transition, racked it, took my helmet off, changed shoes, put my hat on, had a quick drink of water, and headed out for the run. Sadly I had to stop to pee (at the portapotty just outside the transition zone). Remember that slight uphill on the bike? It felt more than slight on the run. The run course was 2 loops along a waterfront trail. On my 2nd loop I got chatting with a guy who told me about a latin phrase he knew that essentially meant “One foot in front of the other, ferociously!” I’m sure it will continue to come in handy in future races!

[Photo by D]

And then I heard the voice of the athlete who was so excited to be back – turns out her name is Shannon. I spotted Alasdair on both loops, and heard Steve Fleck give him the most awesome welcome to the finish line: “Alasdaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaair Paterson!” I’m not sure where I was on the run course at that point, but think it was not long after the turnaround – clearly the sound travels at the waterfront! I spotted Alasdair again waiting for me as I neared the finish line.

I was glad to be done, and to be honest, found the race harder than a sprint would normally be. I’m out of race practice and still building back up from my MTB crash! It’s a short triathlon season this year, but it’s so good to be back!

There was none of the usual post race food, awards, or socializing with other athletes (except for the ones packing up their stuff when we were), which we really missed – that’s part of the fun! Instead, we were encouraged to get the heck out of transition as fast as possible. We did, but we stuck around to cheer for my friend Kris, and for other athletes still finishing.

[Photo by Nikki Cole at Barrie Today]

It was so fun to have a triathlon newbie with us! Who is next?!

Three happy finishers! [Photo by D]

Results

  • Time: 1:43:38.8 (10/11 women 45-49; 64/86 women; 199/245 athletes)
  • Swim: 22:25.9 (2:59 min/100m)
  • T1: 2:32
  • Bike: 41:52.9 (28.65 km/h)
  • T2: 2:01
  • Run: 34:47.6 (6:57 min/km)

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Waterfalls of Hamilton

I am incredibly lucky to live along the Niagara Escarpment in the Hamilton Area. As noted on the Bruce Trail website, “[t]he spectacular Niagara Escarpment encompasses farms, recreation areas, sweeping scenic views, 1675 foot cliffs, clear streams, wetlands, pebbled beaches, rolling hills, pristine waterfalls, wildlife habitats, historic sites, villages, towns and cities.”

The geography of the Hamilton area means that there are many gorgeous waterfalls, both in the City of Hamilton itself, and within four of the cities and towns that were amalgamated into Hamilton years ago: Waterdown, Dundas, Ancaster, and Stoney Creek.

All of the waterfalls are easily accessible without having to cover too much distance on foot. I’ve been exploring close to home lately, and in the last couple of months (February to April), I have run to all 12 of the waterfalls! Many are on the Bruce Trail main trail (Iroquoia section), others on Bruce Trail side trails or not far away.

The City of Hamilton’s Waterfalls Guide will give you all the information you need to plan your visit. Note that reservations are required during certain times of the year to visit Webster Falls and Tew Falls. In some places, you will need to pay for parking.

February 19: Borer’s Falls

I ran 7k from the Sydenham lookout in Dundas East along the Bruce Trail to Borer’s Falls and beyond (and back).

Borer’s Falls

March 12: Sherman Falls, Tiffany Falls, Canterbury Falls, Hermitage Cascade

I ran 12k from Artaban Road to Sherman Falls and Tiffany Falls along the Bruce Trail and a side trail, and then through Dundas Valley Conservation Area to pick up the Bruce Trail again to see Canterbury Falls and the Hermitage Cascade.

Sherman Falls
Tiffany Falls
Canterbury Falls
Hermitage Cascade

March 29: Webster Falls, Tew Falls, Dundas Peak

I ran 11k from Crook’s Hollow to Webster Falls along a trail beside Spencer Creek, then along the road to Tew Falls, and along the Tew Falls side trail to Dundas Peak (and back).

Webster Falls
Tew Falls

April 1: Smokey Hollow Falls

I ran through Waterdown to the falls.

Smokey Hollow Falls

April 5: Felker’s Falls, Devil’s Punchbowl, Albion Falls, Buttermilk Falls

I ran 18k, from Mud Street along the Mud Street side trail to the main Bruce Trail East to Felker’s Falls and the Devil’s Punchbowl, then West past where I parked to Albion Falls and Buttermilk Falls.

Felker’s Falls
Devil’s Punchbowl (upper)
Devil’s Punchbowl (lower)
Albion Falls
Buttermilk Falls

All of the waterfall pictures were taken with my iPhone – I was running, after all! I guarantee that each one is more spectacular in real life!

Looking for more waterfalls? Here’s an incredible map of the waterfalls and cascades of Hamilton (thanks Mary T for pointing it out!).

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Raid the Hammer 2020

In a year when most races were cancelled due to COVID-19, it was exciting that Don’t Get Lost was still able to go ahead with Raid the Hammer.

This year’s race shirt.

The weather even cooperated with a forecasted temperature of 20 degrees Celsius – in November! This meant that teams were able to comfortably sit outside (some brought lawn chairs, others blankets!) to plan their routes. Normally, there would be an indoor venue, but not this year. Instead, we got the great outdoors and some portapotties.

At race registration masks were required, and only one teammate picked up race maps and handed over “declaration of health” forms for each teammate.

There was map 1, map 2, map 3, race instructions and a map bag for each teammate. The race instructions provided more details for each control (e.g. stream junction, ruin, ditch, tunnel entrance, vegetation boundary, fence end, thicket), and whether we were looking for a traditional orienteering flag, a ribbon, a feature (e.g. a sign) or a virtual control.

Heidi, Rebecca and I would be racing together for the first time. We sat on a blanket wearing masks and planned our race route, slightly overwhelmed at the sheer number of controls to find (44)! For each control, we talked about options for going from one to the next – e.g. follow a trail, or take a bearing and bushwhack. Heidi is our chief navigator (and fitness “machine”, as Rebecca put it)!

The race started at Bernie Arbour Memorial Stadium in East Hamilton, on top of the escarpment. But looking at the race maps, we knew we would be climbing down, and up, and down, and up some more before returning to the finish.

This race featured staggered start times to reduce the number of people at the start, and the number of people teams would meet at controls (it worked!). In addition, instead of hand touching a flag or ribbon at a control, we used a free app called Map Run F, which based on GPS location knew that we had found a control.

We were ready to start our race around 9 AM, so with our watches and phones ready to go, we headed for the start control.

Map 1: controls 1 to 6

This part of the course had us descend the escarpment, run through King’s Forest Golf Course, and climb the escarpment again, at one point searching for a control in an area of the map that the trails had been removed from (for the added challenge). I had my first fall of the race early on (those darn tripping hazards hidden under leaves!). In this section we encountered a group of mountain bikers, who we then saw again a couple more times later in the race – as they noted, we went the “direct route”!

Map 2: controls 6 to 14

Moving onto map 2 we felt like we were making progress! In this section of the race, we ran on the Bruce Trail for a while towards Felker’s Falls. We left control 7 at around the same time as a team of 3 guys, and while they were running faster, we arrived at control 8 sooner – it’s not all about speed! We made the better route decision (which they acknowledged!). We didn’t change our planned route much during the race, but we did follow a different vegetation boundary from 9 to 10 (the northern one) and cut some distance off that way. We were looking in the wrong thicket for 10 but didn’t waste too much time before we figured that out. Just before control 14 I wiped out again, falling hard! After control 14 it was time to move to map 3!

Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost – control 11.

Map 3: controls 14 to 25

We missed a small, leaf-covered trail to control 15, and once we saw how close we were getting to Albion Falls, we confirmed that we had indeed run too far. We had to backtrack a bit and climb up the escarpment, then down again. In fact the course planner suspected many people would make this exact error. Part of this map also involved a section called “run the line”, in which we had to follow the route outlined through a residential area to find controls that were not indicated on the map (“virtual controls”). Two involved sets of stairs (because, why not climb some more?!). We were getting close to being done with map 3 for good! We just had to find a couple of controls at Battlefield Park (including a monument at the top of – you guessed it – a set of stairs) and then a couple more along trails before we went back to map 2. My watch, which was running Map Run G – the app for Garmin watches that connects with the Map Run F phone app, went crazy when we passed control 14 again and then quickly reached 25. It started buzzing over and over again, registering that we kept finding 14 and 25. The app clearly thought I was running back and forth between the controls:

25, 25, 14, 14, 14, 25, 14, 25, 14, 25, 14, 25

Thankfully, as long as you visit the controls in the right order (13, 14, 15… 25…) it’s okay if you visit them again.

Map 2 (again): controls 25 to 37

We were relieved to be done with map 3, because it meant we were getting closer to the finish line! Control 27 was a manned checkpoint, where each team was checked off a list (it would help in the case of a team not being finished by the course cut-off time). In this section of the race, we had the option to travel through a tunnel, or climb up and over the road. We chose the tunnel route. Heidi slipped on wet concrete getting down to the tunnel (but did not fall), yelled, and the sound and echo in the tunnel was crazy!

Control 31.

Then after control 33, we had to climb a metal fence to get onto a sidewalk.

At control 35.

After a few more controls that we accessed via trails, we switched back to map 1 and left map 2 for good!

Map 1 (again): controls 37 to the 44 and the finish

After control 37, we were back at King’s Forest Golf Course. Part of this section involved a couple of controls in the section of the map that had the trails removed. Despite there being no trails on the map, we were partly able to use trails in real life to find the controls. From there we had to climb the escarpment again, do a little more compass work, and then from control 44, head to the finish line!

Another creek crossing.

It’s safe to say we were all relieved to be done! It was super fun, but exhausting. We covered 27.5 km in 5 hours and 9 minutes. The three of us worked well together, and our navigation was nearly spot on!

Another great race!

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Adventure racing: my perspective on training

Entering the world of orienteering and adventure racing from the sport of triathlon, I was very familiar with multi-sport racing and the need to practice all three disciplines (swim, bike, run) – sometimes in combination – leading up to race day. But adventure racing is a different beast, in particular once you throw navigation into the mix!

I’ve never been lost in a triathlon – though I have swum into the wrong bay during an Olympic-distance race in Gravenhurst!

I got my start in orienteering in the fall of 2016, adventure racing in 2017 and adventure racing with a navigation component in 2018, so I still consider myself a newbie! 

In advance of my first adventure race, the Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race, which involved a 4k paddle by canoe in Georgian Bay, a 16k mountain bike ride and a 6k trail run, my race partner and I went canoeing briefly once to try kayak paddles in a canoe for the first time (with a 2 year old who did not want to sit down or stay in the boat!), didn’t mountain bike because we didn’t own them, and didn’t run together once. However, we were both fit and confident that we could do the race. We ended up 2nd out of 8 teams of 2 females (and I won the mountain bike draw prize!).

Now, as I prepare for longer and more complex adventure races with my teammates, I have all kinds of ideas on how we can train together, and apart.

RockstAR with Rebecca. [Pic by Brad Jennings]

For example, recently I re-ran a Don’t Get Lost X-league orienteering course in the forest near my house, and instead of worrying about finding as many controls as I could within the 50 minute time limit for this particular map, I chose instead to focus on my navigation and find all the controls (“clear the course”), however long it took. To keep my navigation sharp (and to continue to improve!), I participate in the weekly X-league races, and look for every opportunity to challenge myself by racing as often as I can with Don’t Get Lost and other clubs. 

To work on training with my teammates, we have used old race maps and chosen our own features on the map to navigate to (for example, a hilltop, or a stream junction). Sometimes we just practice our compass bearings and don’t use trails at all. We’ve done this during daylight, in the dark in preparation for racing overnight, in the rain, and in the snow. We have practised using a provincial park map in the winter. Other maps could be used too, such as google maps, or local park or conservation area maps. It’s important to be mindful of park rules and the need to stay on trail in some places. More tips on how to orienteer when you don’t have a map can be found on the Orienteering Ontario “About Orienteering” page. 

While COVID-19 threw a wrench into our 2020 training and racing plans, my teammates and I will train together again with precautions when it’s safe to do so. We have plans to practice our mountain biking together (and do a race), canoe (and portage!) at night, and of course participate in orienteering races. We’ll also train together this winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. 

Cross-country skiing at Arrowhead with Heidi – that day we skied every single trail in the park!

I’ve been tackling increasingly longer races since that first one, from less than 3 hours to nearly 14! In addition to sport specific training, as the race distance and complexity increases, we need to continue to work on nutrition strategies to keep ourselves properly fuelled, and team dynamics to make sure we can lift each other up when the going gets tough, the bugs are nasty, we hurt all over, we get lost, or we start to lose hope! Bring on the races!

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What it’s like to orienteer during COVID-19

Thankfully, orienteering is a sport that lends itself to COVID-19 restrictions. It’s outdoors, and really easy to stay away from other people – in particular when you can run a course any day or time you chose!

Join me for a 60 second overview of orienteering during these crazy times: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSXwFM1V/

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Running the Bruce Trail End to End: Beaver Valley Section

I’ve now completed 7 sections of the Bruce Trail (there are 9)!

What’s the Bruce Trail? According to the Bruce Trail Conservancy website, the Bruce Trail is “Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath. Running along the Niagara Escarpment in southern Ontario from Niagara to Tobermory, the Bruce Trail spans more than 890 km of main Trail and over 400 km of associated side trails.”

Such pretty creeks and waterfalls in this section.

BEAVER VALLEY SECTION

Started the Beaver Valley section: September 14, 2019

Finished the Beaver Valley section: October 31, 2020

Run details

September 14, 2019 – Beaver Valley Ski Club to Beaver Valley Ski Club as part of the Happy Trails Falling Water marathon – covered Wodehouse Karst to Grey County Road 13 – 42k (with Kris)

September 19, 2020 – Maple Lane in Ravenna to Kolapore Grey County Road 2 – 24k (with Kris)

October 3, 2020 – Kolapore Grey County Road 2 to Grey County Road 13 – 30k (with Kris)

October 17, 2020 – Wodehouse Karst Management Area to Webwood Falls Nature Reserve – 25k (with Kris)

October 31, 2020 – Webwood Falls Nature Reserve to Walter’s Falls side trail – 24k (with Kris)

Unique “stepped” creek.

Run stats

  • # runs: 5
  • # solo runs: 0
  • # runs with my husband Alasdair: 0
  • # runs with friends: 5 (Kris!)
  • shortest run: 24k
  • longest run: 42k
  • average length of run: 29k

Run highlights

Most difficult day: The most difficult day was definitely the day my friend Kris and I covered 42k of road and trail as part of the Happy Trails Falling Water marathon. We ran (and walked!) about 31k of the main trail that day, with the rest of the race being on side trails. It was our first time racing together, and a first trail marathon for each of us. Read all about it and see pictures here.

Wildlife encounters: Other than cows, horses, birds, squirrels and dogs, we spotted a grouse in this section. And speaking of cows, we climbed a stile into a farmer’s field and were immediately approached by a very vocal cow who didn’t seem too happy to see us walking through the field. We had the cows approaching from the left and an electric fence on the right. Some kind words and a steady pace got us to the stile at the other end of the field!

One annoyed cow!

Coolest plant matter: fungi galore!

Favourite part of this section (which is one of my favourite sections so far): the waterfalls! I loved stumbling across so many unexpected cute little waterfalls, almost all of which we got to enjoy completely on our own.

Fall splendour: I covered this section entirely in the fall, with some of the lookouts providing amazing views of changing tree colours.

Some tiny flowers were still holding on for dear life…in the frost.

Best trail snack: a pear on the forest floor!

Yum.

Something I’ll remember this section for: the elevation changes! Up, down, up, down, and repeat.

Thank you volunteers for keeping us safe!

Progress so far: I was surprised to discover that I am now about 3/4 of the way along the trail!

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