Race report: STAR Tracks Mountain Bike Adventure (orienteering race)

When I first discovered that mountain bike orienteering existed, I knew that I wanted to try a race – the problem was that I didn’t own a mountain bike! But this summer, I won one at the Subaru Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race. Problem solved! I signed up for the “novice” course of the STAR Tracks Mountain Bike Adventure, organized by the STARS Orienteering Club and held at Albion Hills Conservation Area in Caledon.

As a fairly new mountain biker, I thought that the 30-60 minute race option, intended for those who have basic trail riding and trail map navigation skills, would be best for me. But Barb, the event director, suggested that I check out the Albion Hills trails, and if I wanted to, I could switch into the “open” course, intended for intermediate to strong bikers and navigators. I headed to Albion Hills with a friend, had a blast on the single and double track trails, and decided to switch to the open course.

On race morning, I arrived so early that only Barb was there. I helped carry some things to the chalet, and helped set up the tent for protection from what we all knew may arrive during the race – wild winds and heavy rain. Once everything was organized, I checked in, signed a waiver, cleared and checked my SI (timing) stick and got my race map.

Preparing my route pre-race. [Photo by Ilona Dobos]
There were 15 checkpoints that had to be found in order within the 2 hour limit, with all of them found on the trails (no bushwhacking required), some of them single track, one way trails. When planning my route, I had to be careful to note which trails ran in which direction, or risk adding extra distance when I reached the trail and was faced with a “no entry” sign.

Albion Hills

There was a short pre-race briefing, during which we were warned that with the rains overnight, the clay and roots may be very slippery. We were instructed to start the race when we were ready, and to verify control #s before inserting our SI sticks, because there would be controls from both the novice and open courses out there, and if you punch the wrong control, you get a “mispunch” (and no official finish). The map above shows what numbers we were actually looking for in the forest (e.g. control 1 would read 150). I spent 5-10 minutes planning my route, then lined up to start.

Lined up and ready to go. [Photo by Ilona Dobos]
Racers were started in 30 second intervals. When instructed to go, I inserted my SI stick into the start control, then headed out. I had tucked my map (in a plastic sleeve) into the left leg of my shorts, knowing that I would have to continually take it out to look at it. I tried to memorize what I would have to do at the next couple of junctions (e.g. left, left, right) to reduce the number of times I had to stop and look at the map.

Because I started just 30 seconds after the two people ahead of me (who were working together), I caught them quickly, and several of us arrived at the first checkpoint together.

The trails were a mixture of double track and single track, flat and very hilly, straight and very curvy with tight turns.

At some point, I started working with a racer name Kevin, and later, we picked up another racer named John. Each time I join forces with others I remember how much more fun it is to orienteer in a team. I love the challenge of doing it by myself, but facing trials and tribulations and celebrating successes is fun with others!

I felt good on the trails, and only fell once – from a standstill, at a control, right in front of the race photographer Ilona Dobos! I had inadvertently put my foot down in a ditch.

Looks like we’re chuckling over my tumble. [Photo by Ilona Dobos]
Keeping my map in my shorts worked out okay, but at times I also held the map between my teeth when I knew I would need to look at it frequently. It wasn’t so easy to see when it opened up in my face. “How’s that working for you?” I heard at one point! I resorted to holding it in my left hand at times while I rode. Some people used handlebar mounted map holders, while several others used dollar store chip bag clips – I think I’ll try that next time! The advantage of the bike mounted map holder is that it rotates, so that you can easily turn the map so that it is facing the correct way as you turn corners.

Most of the controls were easy to find, but a few took a little longer than they should have because of poor route choices or missed trails. At one point, Kevin and I did a loop only to find ourselves where we started – we had missed a turn. I think it was around this point that he loaned allen keys to another racer whose handlebars kept dropping.

We had been told in the pre-race briefing that if we weren’t at control #7 within 1 hour of starting, then we should skip 8, 9, 10, and 11, and go straight to 12. We were heading to #7 at around 51 minutes for me (a little longer for Kevin, who started before me). I was hopeful that I could finish within the time allotted, and Kevin just wanted to find all the controls (which he hadn’t managed to do on his previous attempts at this race).

At one point during the race it rained, but it was very short lived. The temperature was fantastic, and higher than expected for a day in mid October.

Near the end of the race my legs were getting tired! I had to walk up a couple of steep grassy hills. I figured I’d walk it just as fast as I’d ride it at that point.

As I got closer and closer to control 15, I realized that it was still possible for me to finish within the 2 hours. Coming out of the forest and onto the grass near the chalet, there were lots of cheers for me and the others finishing ahead of me and behind me.

In the end, I found all controls and finished in a time of 1:52:01! I had so much fun. The single track trails are by far my favourite.

There was fruit and cookies outside the chalet, where racers compared route choices with others.

Done! [Photo by Ilona Dobos]
It turns out that I finished 2nd out of 8 women in the open course. You can see all the splits here. There were also masters and junior age groups as well.

You can’t see here how muddy I got! [Photo by John]

With my new racing buddies, John and Kevin. [Photo by Ilona Dobos]
 Thanks to the STARS Orienteering Club for such a great race. Can’t wait for the next one!

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2 thoughts on “Race report: STAR Tracks Mountain Bike Adventure (orienteering race)

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