Within a span of 5 minutes during the Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid Adventure Run, I narrowly avoided sliding off a cliff and into a valley, then nearly killed my teammate with a dead tree. Thankfully, we’re both still here to tell the tale!
In preparation for the race, Rebecca and I bought Atlas Run snowshoes, and practised running with them as many times as possible before the race. Sadly, with the amount of snow we’ve received so far this winter in south-western Ontario, that didn’t amount to many runs! However, we were undeterred. And we were hopeful that a couple of hours further north at Blue Mountain Resort near Collingwood, there would be enough snow for a snowshoe race!
In the days leading up to the race, the big question on everyone’s mind was “Snowshoes? Or shoes with spikes?” Neither of us owned spikes, so we hoped snowshoes would do the trick. Two days before the race, and after placing all the controls on the race course, the organizers recommended snowshoes, so we scrapped our plans to buy spikes at MEC in Barrie on our way to the race!
The night before the race we stayed at a great little motel in Wasaga Beach called Oasis by the Bay, which was one block from Georgian Bay. We sprayed our snowshoes with a silicone spray to prevent wet snow from clumping on the crampons, then headed to the beach for a test run. It ended up being a walk along the pretty, snow covered beach. Despite us snowshoeing on snow, our snowshoes were covered in sand! Check out the pretty trees we found in the sand.
On race morning, we made the 30 minute drive to Blue Mountain, forgot to spray our snowshoes again, picked up our race kits, and set ourselves up at a table to strategize and plan our route. We worked out compass bearings and marked up our maps. Next time, we’ll use a highlighter to mark our route. We’re still learning!
The format for this race was such that teams of 2 had 3 hours to find as many controls as we could, but we had to start with a 1 km climb up a mountain to find control #40 first. You know how when you go downhill skiing, you ride a chair lift to the top, then ski down? Well, we just climbed the mountain. At the start of the race. As a warm up.
Controls were worth different point values based on their difficulty: green (25 points), blue (50 points), black (75 points), double black (100 points), and ! (150 points).
However, for every minute over the allotted 3 hours, teams lost 30 points! Each time your team arrived at a control (teammates had to be 25 m apart at the most, with both touching each control), you put your timing chip into the timing machine and registered that you were there. However, there was a section on the map (the “matrix”) where you could separate from your teammate to find more controls, use a “paper punch” to punch your maps, then meet up, and later stop at the aid station to show your paper punches and get credit for those controls. Rebecca and I opted to stay together for the entire race. To make things even more interesting, 2 of the controls (36 and 37) wouldn’t be placed on the course until 12 PM, a full 1 1/2 hours into the race.
Our plan was to find controls 40 (green) and 41 (green), then enter the matrix and attempt to get all of the controls in there, though we hadn’t settled on a definitive order of things. So we’d be looking for 34 (blue), 35 (black diamond), 33 (blue), 32 (blue) and 31 (green). We were open to the possibility of going for 55 (blue) and 56 (double black diamond) outside of the matrix if we had the time (hilarious thinking about it now!). Finally, we would get 36 (green, in the matrix, but not there until 12 PM), and 3 others outside the matrix (37 (green), 42 (blue) and 43 (blue)) if possible on our way back to the finish line, which would be at the bottom of the mountain that we climbed at the start of the race. Oh how optimistic we were!
After the 9:45 AM pre-race briefing (during which we were told that if we wore snowshoes, we would probably wish we had worn spikes, and if we wore spikes, we’d probably wish we had worn snowshoes), we walked approximately 1 1/2 km to the race start.
We were in the 3rd wave, so when the last group of people started moving, we took that as our cue to start! (We couldn’t hear what was being said in the loudspeaker, and there was no horn to start the race.) It was the slowest race start ever, and quickly became a slow march up the mountain, with a bottle-neck at a stream crossing. However, we didn’t know until we got close what the hold up was. With some people in shoes and spikes, and others in snowshoes, there were various approaches to crossing the stream – 10 minutes into the race I really didn’t want soaking wet feet. We managed to get across it without trouble, and eventually the racers spread out. At one point, I heard a man say, “I didn’t sign up for heart attack hill!” It was a quad burner for sure. With the delay at the creek and the length of the hill, it took us 29:44 to reach the first control!
From that point onward, it was easy sailing. Ha! Not exactly. We overshot 41, so decided to skip it and get it on the way back. We easily found 38, which was in the deepest snow we found all race (15 cm? with a crusty top), then headed for the matrix. We didn’t have any trouble finding 34, and decided then to follow the ridge line to 33. It was further than we expected, but not hard to find. Next we headed for a black diamond, but we recognized that time wasn’t on our side, and if we didn’t find it quickly, we would have to head back to the finish line! We were walking more than running, and watching the clock closely! We hugged the creek and descended a steep hill, which also happened to be slippery and a bit icy. I had a good fall and bruised up my knee! We were using trees to brace ourselves as we descended. When we heard someone say that they couldn’t find it, we were doubtful that we would be able to, but we continued onward. We had to cross a flowing creek and ascend another hill to find the control, but first we had to find a safe, dry place to cross! That meant adding distance, but we made it across and climbed the steep hill, which was partially snow covered, and partially mud covered! Remember, we were wearing snowshoes! We had to descend yet another steep hill (this was the only time that Rebecca and I split up – she waited at the top and planned our next steps), but I found it!
Back up the hill I went, and then we headed down the hill to find a marked snowshoe trail. It was at this point that I fell and slipped close to the edge of a cliff. I had been scouting out a route, but clearly that wasn’t the best one! A kind man gave me his hand and pulled me up and away from danger! We decided to descend further before crossing the valley, with Rebecca leading the way. It was at this point that I leaned on a (dead) tree and it gave way, heading directly in Rebecca’s direction. In those few seconds it took the tree to fall, I yelled “LOOK OUT!” and was certain it was going to hit her directly on the head and knock her down. I had visions of what would happen next. She was actually turned slightly to the side, so it looked to me like it hit her sunglasses (which were on top of her head), but no, it actually hit her on the head. She was not knocked down – or out – and while her head hurt, she wasn’t having any other concussion symptoms. Another racer, who was descending the hill behind me, said that the same thing had happened to her! Thankfully, Rebecca was fine and we continued on our way. PHEW. (As a side note, I highly recommend that all racers get certified in first aid and CPR! You never know when you might need it. The Canadian Red Cross and St. John Ambulance offer very affordable courses.)
Looking at our watches, we knew we had to head straight back to the finish line. We weren’t even sure that we would have time to stop at the aid station to get credit for our matrix controls! We reached a bridge and were momentarily uncertain which way to go, but went back the way we had come earlier in the race (through the forest). While it added hills, it was beautiful in the forest, and we were alone (sometimes in these races, this makes me nervous! Why did no one else go this way?)! Others seemed to head for control 31 and the road route to the aid station. We reached an intersection of trails, and turned right, but we soon started to feel that we had gone too far, so we were probably going the wrong way. We turned around, running back to the intersection to reassess, but before we could get there, Patrick – one of the Don’t Get Lost Adventure Running Kids instructors – came running toward us, going the way we originally thought we should go. He confirmed that he was heading for the aid station, and I said to Rebecca after he left, “That’s Patrick! He must know where he’s going!” So we followed him and of course, he was right.
We reached an intersection where we had to make a decision:
- turn right, go to the aid station, get credit for our matrix controls, then head for the finish, adding time to finish and potentially losing more points in penalty, OR
- turn left, don’t get credit for the controls we worked so hard to get, but potentially have fewer penalty points.
We chose to get credit at the aid station for our hard-earned, death defying points!! And in doing so, we also got control 36. We hoped that there would be no gear check, since we were so short on time (there was mandatory gear that individuals – and teams – had to carry, such as a first aid kit). Thankfully, all we had to do was put our timing chip in the 3 controls we found, and take off for the finish! We weren’t the only ones making this mad dash! Lots of teams were finishing at the same time. I was pretty thirsty in this last bit, and though I was wearing a camelbak, I didn’t want to slow down by fumbling with a mouthpiece! Thankfully, I’d been drinking Nuun and water and had eaten a granola bar during the race, so I was fairly well fueled!
Unfortunately, we still had about 2 km to run to our destination! We did a run/walk combo, with my cardio failing! Rebecca led and tried to keep me going, but I couldn’t manage a steady run. We knew that when we hit control 40, it was all downhill from there – a steep, slippery downhill!
Rebecca led the way, as we braced ourselves on (heathy!) trees, being careful of the hikers coming up the hill, and some of the crazy racers going full speed down the hill (saying “on your left!” or “on your right!” would have been helpful – and far less dangerous). One guy almost slid right into me. At one point, Rebecca decided to slide down the hill on her bum, so she lifted her feet and off she went! I did the same, and it was fun, but wow, we got going fast at times and it was scary! My butt and hands froze (I wasn’t wearing gloves) so I eventually got up and walk/ran again. Next time, I might use my map bag as a toboggan! Rebecca was a little ahead of me the whole way down the hill, saying “Kyra?” and continuing on as soon as she heard me say, “I’m here!” We reached the stream crossing, and while it was congested (and patience wasn’t a virtue of at least one racer), it was much easier and faster to cross than at the start of the race. And from there, it was a short run to the finish! All told, we covered about 9.6 km, according to Rebecca’s watch.
We had such fun!! And for the record, we didn’t regret wearing our snowshoes for one second! I can’t wait to do this race again next year – hopefully with lots more snow!
If you’ve never done an orienteering race, or you don’t know how to use a map and compass, don’t worry, it’s easy to learn!! Try it out, you won’t regret it. As my new friend Mauro said after the race (we met during a race, and became unofficial teammates), “…these races make me feel like I am 10 yrs old again. So much fun. I am in hook, line and sinker….”
Can’t wait for the next race! (The bump on Rebecca’s head should have healed by then!)
Race Results for Team DEFINE “LOST”
Points earned: 275 (we found 7 controls: 25 points for control 40, 25 for 38, 25 for 36, 50 for 33, 50 for 34, 75 for 35, 25 for 37)
Points lost: 210 (30 points for every minute over the allowed 3 hours)
Final points: 65
Placing: 16/21 female teams, 93/124 all teams
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