In hindsight our error is so obvious, but out in the woods we weren’t sure WHAT we had done! Where exactly were we?
Rebecca and I (team Define Lost) were recently back in action at the Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid in the Copeland Forest in the Barrie, Ontario area.
In the days leading up to the race, we – like everyone else – were watching the weather closely to see whether there would be enough snow for snowshoes, or whether we would be using spikes on our running shoes instead. On race morning we set out prepared for both eventualities – it wasn’t until we had a look at the race map that we opted for spikes instead of snowshoes, figuring that the trails would be hard packed and would be easier to run than bushwhacking on snowshoes through the forest.
For this race, teams had 3 hours to find as many controls (checkpoints) as possible. Go over the 3 hour limit and you lose 20 points per minute. Some controls were close to trails, while others were not. Some were in flatter terrain, while others were on the top of steep hills. This forest has some significant hills! Point values for the controls depend on how far away they are and how easy they are to find (for this race, they were as follows: green 25, blue 50, black 75, double black 100, extreme 150).
It had been quite a while since Rebecca and I had done an orienteering race, so we planned a conservative route with a few decisions points along the way – if we were making slower progress than expected we would cut certain sections of the course out. After planning our route, we decided that we might actually be better off spending more time on the south part of map #1 (more points available), rather than the north part, so we had our original route (orange highlighter) and new route (yellow highlighter – the paths diverged at control 70) mapped out. We opted for yellow. We didn’t even plan to visit map #2, knowing we couldn’t cover that much distance in the 3 hours.
After a short school bus ride to the start line, the race began! With the majority of people heading for the same control first, there wasn’t much running at the start for us – we were in a line of people walking. After control #24, we headed for the road, and easily found #28, which was not far off the road. We got back onto the road and yelled to a team ahead of us that they couldn’t go the way they were heading, which was a driveway identified as “private land” on the map. They noted that they were just following others, but we explained the map to them and they followed us instead. After finding #20, we headed for #55, which is where the fun began.
We found #55, then set our compass bearing to take us to a trail, which would lead us by trail most of the way to the next control, #54. In winter orienteering the temptation is high to follow the tracks of other teams. You would think we had learned our lesson by now. Sometimes you end up following people who had no idea where they were going. We veered off our bearing, changing our route on the fly to follow tracks, and ended up at a trail. We thought we knew which trail we had found, and headed south, but somehow we ended up going way too far, passing the right hand turn we were supposed to maket. We started wondering why there were no snowshoe tracks ahead of us… where had everyone else gone? We decided to backtrack, and eventually got ourselves heading in the right direction. However we were both confused when we spotted the control, as we thought it was going to be on an uphill, but we were approaching it on a downhill. It turns out we were reading the contour lines wrong, and were approaching a valley not a ridge. Unfortunately, when we reached the control the number on the SI unit didn’t match the one on the map, but we quickly realized that it didn’t match any of the controls on the map, so we assumed we had found the right one and we were where we thought we were.
Normally, the number on the control in the forest matches the number of the control on the map – this is so you know exactly where you are. If the numbers don’t match, there is usually a legend on the map (e.g. map control #1 = SI unit 40).
Once we were back on track, our goal was to not get turned around again! We easily found the next few controls, including #70, #73, #23, and #71 (at the top of a steep hill). From here we knew that we should head for the finish, skipping #52 on our planned route. We feared it would put us overtime and we would lose our hard-earned points.
When we left the trail to find #58, we were seemingly cheered on by a woodpecker, likely a Pileated woodpecker (it was so loud). It must have known we needed some help. We had a little trouble finding it – the vegetation was thick and we walked right past it, but did realize we had gone too far when we hit a trail, and backtracked. From there it was a fairly easy route to the finish.
We ended up crossing the finish line in 2:35:36, having earned 475 points for 2nd place in the Masters Women category (combined aged 90+). We were beaten by our arch nemesis Tree Huggers, who were way ahead with 735 points.
We had fun running/walking 11 1/2 km through the woods spending time outside on such a glorious winter day! We didn’t regret our choice in footwear. Overall our navigation was pretty good, though a little rusty. And it was so great to see so many friends and familiar faces pre-race, in the forest, and post-race!!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
We hosed off our muddy bikes, got changed, packed up our stuff, and headed home.
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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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.
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!
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!
Then after control 33, we had to climb a metal fence to get onto a sidewalk.
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!
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!
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 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.
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.
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!
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!
With COVID-19 resulting in the cancellation of events and races left, right and centre, the orienteering community has found a way to keep people active in the outdoors!
If you’re looking for a super fun way to challenge your brain and body while discovering new places, keep reading!
Orienteering is an activity for everyone – walkers, runners, kids, families, seniors, and uber-competitive high performance athletes. You don’t need any special skills!
Pre-COVID-19, people would meet at a specific location at a specific time, register, get a map, plan their route, chat with others, and then take part in a race, in urban areas, forests, and in secluded wilderness areas (on foot, bike, canoe, etc.). Clearly this isn’t possible during COVID-19 restrictions.
Instead, clubs like Don’t Get Lost and Orienteering Ottawa have switched gears, offering orienteering opportunities for people to do on their own schedule, solo or as a family, as long as you have a smartphone or a smart watch.
If you live in proximity to Hamilton/Burlington, Oakville, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Niagara, London and Barrie, Don’t Get Lost has orienteering opportunities for you! (I can’t speak to the events run by Orienteering Ottawa, as I live too far away to have taken part.)
Don’t Get Lost X-league
I have been participating in X-league races for a few years now, and am thankful that races are still possible COVID-19 style. The premise is simple.
You register online.
You print the map at home.
You download the MapRun F app.
You go to the map start/finish location on your own with your map (no compass required!).
You walk or run the course on a mix of city streets and parks and trails within the allotted time limit (usually 40-60 minutes), while the MapRun F app does it’s thing in the background. COVID-19 style, there’s no orange/white flag to find. Your phone will beep when you’ve “found” the control.
You instantly see your results.
You go home.
If you want, you can connect with others in a Facebook group.
You can’t even get lost, because you can look on the app to see where you are if you’re not sure. Another bonus – these races are very inexpensive! Some are FREE to try right now!
If you’re into all things data, you can look at the results of everyone who did the race. You can see:
You can even see everyone moving in “real time” – i.e. as if everyone started at the same time, their dots move and you can see who went where and how quickly. Below is a snapshot of the animation showing everyone moving at once. You can watch a snapshot of just your route, or of any combination of people.
You can even see if anyone ran off the map. Below, you’ll see someone went for a long swim (!) and someone else ran across the railroad tracks (!). Both very unlikely – probably GPS confusion!
This year’s Don’t Get Lost Raid the Hammer was to be my first time doing the “full” Raid – in previous years, I have always done the “half”. It was also the first time that Rebecca and I would race with Heidi (in preparation for Wilderness Traverse 2020). However, Rebecca was sick on race morning, so our team of 3 became a team of 2, which meant we weren’t able to do the full Raid and be included in the official results. We had two options: 1) full Raid (unranked), or 2) half Raid (ranked). We chose #1!
We picked up our race maps at St. Ann Catholic Elementary School in Hamilton (3 of 4 maps – one would be given out during the race), and planned our route. Given that I ran the Happy Trails The Beav 25k trail race the day before, we planned to run as smart a race as we could, nailing the navigation to make up for my tired legs!
When the race began, Heidi and I took off in different directions. In the Matrix, teammates could stick together or split up to find the 10 checkpoints (A to I). This section could be done at the beginning of the race, at the end of the race, or a mix of the two. We planned to do it at the beginning. We decided that Heidi would do the 4 controls north of Wilson Street, and I would do the 6 to the south, with slightly less running. At these checkpoints, we had to answer a question about the feature that was there (e.g. number on hydro pole, name of person on bench). With the exception of the first one, where I ended up on the wrong side of the creek to start with, I found all of these easily. No compass was required. I was hoping to beat Heidi to our meeting point so that I could rest briefly, but she beat me by less than a minute!
After running along the Bruce Trail over Highway 403, we were onto map 2.
Game of Thorns (CP1 to CP2)
In this section, we needed our compass, and an ability to scour a forest for “a distinct tree”. We found the controls, but none of the trees jumped out at us!
Blackout (CP3 to CP8)
In this section, trails were removed from the map, but we were able to use some anyway to find the controls. Our navigation continued to be bang on!
Gnarly Run and Photo Shoot (CP9)
It was a 3k run along the Bruce Trail to Sherman Falls, where we would be photographed with our teammates (instead of inserting our SI stick into an SI reader).
Dundas Valley Traverse I (CP10 to CP11)
From here we headed into the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, where we found CP10 and then CP11 (the aid station). We each had to show that we were carrying a whistle and an emergency blanket, and then we were given map 4. We grabbed some of the snacks at the aid station, and then studied the map briefly to decide which 5 of the 7 controls we wanted to get.
Scramble (CP12 to CP 18)
We opted for 18 and then 15, which were just off a main trail down steep hills. From there we ran along trails for a short while before crossing a log over a creek. While we managed to stay dry, we found out after the race that at least one person went for an unintentional swim here!
We climbed yet another steep hill to find 14 – in fact, this entire map involved lots of ups and downs. My tired legs were slow on the uphills!
From the time we hit 17 until almost the end of the race, we kept running into the same team at the controls, though we would choose different routes and yet still arrive almost at the same time.
After control 12 we looked for the least steep part of the hill to climb down to the creek, and then climbed up the hills on the other side. We then followed a trail all the way back to the aid station. We handed in our hand-punched map, ate some more aid station goodies, and then went back to map 3.
Map 3 (continued)
Dundas Valley Traverse II (CP20 to 24)
To get to CP 20, we opted to run a longer distance along trails, because bushwhacking directly there would have involved significant ups and downs, and more potential to get lost. From there, we again set out on trails, but planned to bushwhack a couple of times on our way to CP 21, down a steep hill, through a creek, up the steep bank on the other side, and then later, following a contour line and keeping a creek in sight. It worked!
Then it was a trail run to the “brawn” or “brain” section, where we had to choose which CP22 to do (climb all the way up the hill for an easy to find control, or half way up for a harder to find one). We chose the latter.
At this point, we knew that we had just 2 more controls to find before a 2k run to the finish line.
After CP23, we spotted the race photographer at CP24, and then it was a final push to the finish line!
Unfortunately, the 2k run back was a net uphill. My legs were pretty tired at this point, 26k into the race, so I had to take some walking breaks!
But after 5 hours, 2 minutes and 55 seconds, Heidi and I crossed the finish line! We had covered 28k, and 1400m of elevation gain.
We worked really well together, and our navigation was near perfect! It was super fun! I’m looking forward to racing with Heidi again. And look out Tree Huggers, we’re coming for you!!
After the race, it was time for some well deserved food! Yum!
Placing: Unranked, since we were a team of 2, but had we been a team of 3 females, we would have been 2nd! Woot!
It’s always fun to introduce friends to the sport of orienteering, and this year’s Stars W.A.R. put on by the Stars Orienteering Club gave me the opportunity to do just that. My friend Kris is an experienced trail runner, but orienteering was brand new to her. And since she had never run on snowshoes before, she practised in the weeks leading up to the race.
Fast forward to race day, and sadly, there wasn’t enough snow for snowshoes. Instead, there was ice in abundance, so we were ready with spikes for our shoes.
After we picked up our race maps, we sat down to plan our route. While orienteering was new to Kris, the setting for this race, Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, was not!
The race was to start with an optional matrix section, in which partners could split up to find the 6 controls faster. Kris was keen to try to find controls on her own, so we decided to separate. She would go for 2 that we thought would be easiest. We each had a very small map to carry with us, which essentially covered the bottom left corner of the big map. When we reached the lettered controls in the matrix, we were to punch our maps with manual punches. After finding 2 each, we would meet back at control 50 near the start/finish location, where we would hand in our little maps, pick up one more little map, and together find the remaining 2 controls in the matrix. After the matrix, we would try to find as many controls on the big map as we could – these varied in point value based on their level of difficulty, from 20 to 70 points. We highlighted our proposed route in yellow, and were ready to go.
Everyone assembled at the start, and when the race began, people ran in every direction! People without spikes on their shoes, or without good spikes, had trouble with the ice right off the bat and fell. I saw a couple of people have trouble on little hills on my way to my first control.
Kris beat me back to control 50, but said that had she not followed someone, she might not have found 1 of the 2 she was looking for. That’s okay – she’s just learning!
We handed in our 3rd little map, punched control 50, and set off to find as many as we could on our big map.
We had a little trouble with our first control, approaching a broken rock wall too far left (and therefore not seeing it at first). We backtracked to a trail, tried again, and when we found the wall, it was totally obvious that we were in the right spot! Kris had to slide down a steep hill on her backside because her spikes didn’t grip the ice well enough.
We had success finding the next 3 controls, with Kris commenting on the lack of other teams around us. It was almost like we were out for a run in the woods on our own.
We did have trouble with one control, because we unknowingly followed the wrong fence line, forcing us to bushwhack (with another team) through extremely dense forest, and then jump across a creek. It was in this section that we saw what Kris pointed out as being a wolf print!
When we came out into an opening (which we expected), we were a little confused because the fences on the map didn’t line up with what we were seeing in front of us. However, we pushed on, and as soon as we got close to the next control, which was sitting on a pile of rocks, we knew we weren’t at the one we intended to go for – we were looking for one in a little valley. In any case, we decided not to backtrack, and to get this one (which was to be our next one anyway) and keep going.
At one point, we startled a grouse (which in turn startled us!) – we heard its distinctive sound and saw it fly away.
After finding the last of our planned controls, we stood there briefly debating whether we should add one more – we figured we had time, so we headed for one at a ruined building. I didn’t want to regret not going for it and returning to the finish with lots of time to spare.
In the end, we reached the finish in 2:25:08, which wouldn’t have given us enough time to find any other controls. We actually did quite well estimating how many controls we could find in the allotted 2 1/2 hours, and therefore how far we could run in that time.
We covered 12.8k in that time, running (and walking!) on trails, roads, and off-trail through the forest.
Afterwards, racers were given a hot chili lunch, with lots of sweet and salty treats, and hot and cold drinks too. We had a great time. Thank you Stars!
This year’s Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid became a Spike Raid when there wasn’t enough snow to warrant snowshoes. It was disappointing, but my race partner Rebecca and I were keen to try our Kahtoola microspikes with trail running shoes for the first time, so all was not lost! And it’s not as if it wasn’t cold enough for snow – at the start of the race, it was -20C or colder with the wind chill. Brrr! I filled my water bottle with boiling water in hopes that it wouldn’t freeze up during the race (it worked, but the water was ice cold by the end).
After spending the night at a local Airbnb, we arrived at
Blue Mountain (ski resort) with plenty of time to pick up our race maps and
instructions and plan our route. We received 1 map each, but learned that 1
hour into the 3 hour race, we could pick up a new map at the aid station, which
would include the original checkpoints plus additional ones. This made route
planning a little trickier, because while we knew that the 2nd map
would include 500 extra points (the original had 1,150), we had no idea where
the new checkpoints would be.
All checkpoints were either green (25 points), blue (50 points), black (75 points) or double black (100 points) depending on level of difficulty. Each team of 2 would have to start with an approximately 1k uphill climb to the first checkpoint, after which they could go in search of as few or as many checkpoints as they wished, in any order. In addition, there was a “matrix” section of the map, an area with 5 checkpoints in it, where teammates could split up to find them faster (you proved you found the checkpoint by using a manual punch to put holes in your map, as opposed to using an electronic chip for the rest of the race).
After the pre-race briefing, we all headed to the school buses that were waiting to take us to the start line, from where we would enter the Loree Forest, which surrounded Blue Mountain on the east, west and south sides.
When the race began, we started running, but our pace slowed as the hill got steeper, and we joined a long line of people walking up a narrowing path. There was a bit of a bottleneck, but I’m not sure I would have gone any faster without anyone in front of me, at least not until we got to the top, where some maneuvering around people and trees was required. Rebecca and I headed off to find a double black and two black controls, which we found, but it took longer than we expected it to – it was hillier than we anticipated. And boy was it ever hilly! To add to the fun, for some reason my compass was not working properly. The needle was jumping all over the place, which I’m assuming was the cold temperature wreaking havoc. Rebecca’s didn’t seem much better. Thankfully, we didn’t need them much!
Next we headed into the matrix section, where we split up. Rebecca was to do 2 controls, me the remaining 3, and then we would meet at the aid station within the matrix.
While running along the Bruce Trail at one point, a friend was running towards me when he did the gentlemanly thing and stepped off the hard packed snow to the side so I could pass by. What neither of us knew was that there was quite a drop, and he fell. He was fine, and as usual ended up kicking our butts. Thanks Chris. 🙂
When I reached the aid station, I didn’t see Rebecca, so I grabbed myself a cup of hot chocolate – just what I needed to warm up my lower lip so that I could speak properly again! There were also cookies and donuts, but I just had a few of Rebecca’s M&Ms when she turned up. We got our new maps, took a couple of minutes to discuss the new controls and slightly alter our route, and then headed out. We didn’t want to stop for long – we were getting cold!
We stuck to our original plan to head to the east from the matrix, but added a new blue control that wasn’t on the original map. We did a lot of trail running versus bushwhacking during this race, but we did have some stellar navigation using a big hill (no compass!) as our reference point in this section. Yay us.
Given the elapsed time, we knew we couldn’t go any further away from the finish at this point, so we started heading to the finish line, grabbing another black on our way. We decided that the last few controls near the finish – which we were planning to do “if we had time” (we never have time!) – were probably out of reach. However, with about 12 minutes to go we were running along a road seeing people coming out of the trees, and realized that one of the controls was actually very close to us. We decided that even if going for it put us slightly overtime, it would be worth it.
From there we ran to the finish, getting there with just under 2 minutes to spare (the penalty was -30 points per minute over the 3 hours). We ended up with 650 points.
In talking to others after the race, I realized that our race strategy might not have been the best. The first two controls we went for (after the mandatory first one) were pretty far for what they were worth. We might have earned more points trying to find more controls of lower value that weren’t so far away. As well, when we got the second map, we could have headed west instead of east, where there was a cluster of 3 blacks close together.
In any case, it was a fun race! We are always learning.
At the finish there was more hot chocolate and sweet treats, and buses waiting to take teams back to Blue Mountain, where we were provided with a hot lunch. After the awards, we headed home!
In the days leading up to this race, I had no idea I’d be criss-crossing a half-pipe multiple times with a chilly creek crossing in the middle! But how would I? The race location is top secret until race day (though I did try my best to piece together the picture teasers as they were posted on Facebook).
A last minute change meant that our team of 3 became a team of 2 for this year’s Don’t Get Lost Raid the Hammer Adventure Race. This would be our 3rd time doing the race, and on home soil to boot!
At registration we were each given 2 maps and a sheet of race instructions, which set out everything we needed to know about the race. We would pick up a 3rd map out on the race course.
This was a point to point race with 3 distinct sections:
a matrix, where team members could split up to find the 6 checkpoints faster, which could be found in any order;
12 mandatory checkpoints found in order from 1 to 12; and
a matrix, where team members could again split up to find the 4 checkpoints, and in any order.
As this race was held on Remembrance Day, we had a moment of silence before boarding busses to the start line. From the Veterans Affairs Canada website:
Every year on November 11, Canadians pause in a silent moment of remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace. We honour those who fought for Canada in the First World War (1914-1918), the Second World War (1939-1945), and the Korean War (1950-1953), as well as those who have served since then. More than 2.3 million Canadians have served our country in this way, and more than 118,000 have died. They gave their lives and their futures so that we may live in peace.
The race began at Hidden Valley Park in Burlington, a small park with a couple of playgrounds and some trails in the woods. Earlier this fall, I saw salmon swimming upstream in the creek that runs through the park.
On Patrick’s countdown, the race began! Rebecca and I had decided to split up in the matrix, with her doing a little more running for 3 checkpoints that we thought would be easier to find (D, E, F). It turns out they were all pretty easy, partly because we were never the only ones searching for them, but also because the park is so small and the navigation just wasn’t too difficult.
I found my 3, then ran to a pavilion to wait for Rebecca so we could show our punched maps to Patrick, proving that we had been to each checkpoint. We punched checkpoint 1 (at the pavilion), then headed for the road that would take us onto the second map.
This next part of the race course required us to cross Grindstone Creek in between each checkpoint. Between checkpoints 1 and 2 we used a bridge, but after that, we bit the bullet and got wet feet. And boy was the water ever cold!!! We learned that indecision after a creek crossing was a bad thing – that’s when our feet froze. As long as we kept moving, they warmed up pretty quickly!
Also in this section were hills, hills and more hills! From a checkpoint high on a hill, we would descend, cross the creek, then climb a hill on the other side.
At checkpoint 6 there was an aid station with sweet and salty goodies, and a gear check, where we had to show that we were carrying an emergency blanket.
After checkpoint 9 there were no more creek crossings. At checkpoint 10, which was just before we crossed the railroad tracks and entered Black’s Forest (the trails south of Walmart and Grindstone Way in Waterdown), we received the 3rd map, which we needed to get back to the high school.
There are tons of trails in this area, but they don’t necessarily go the way you want to go. We did a lot of trail hopping to get from 10 to 11, 11 to 12, and then 12 to 13. After this point, we could split up again and find the 4 remaining checkpoints. I know this part of Waterdown very well, so I only needed to look once on the map to see where the checkpoints were, then didn’t need to look again (I knew the spots).
These checkpoints had questions that we had to answer, rather than inserting our SI card into a chip reader. For example, one asked for the last name of Charlotte, whose name was on a park bench. When I reached my 2nd and last control in this section, I encountered another woman at the same hydro pole trying to answer the same question. “Final digit on the power pole (5485)” shouldn’t be that hard. But it was a multiple choice question, and the number we saw on the pole wasn’t an option on the sheet. We figured it was a typo, and headed back to the high school. Sadly, we later found out that we were looking at the wrong pole! We had been looking at 54856, when we should have been looking at the pole across the street, 54855! This meant a 15 minute time penalty for our team.
Rebecca had no trouble with her checkpoints, and was waiting for me at the high school. We punched the finish line checkpoint, and headed inside to download our results onto the Don’t Get Lost computer. In 3:31:53 we covered a little over 17k, and found all of the checkpoints.
We enjoyed a hot lunch from a food truck, included in our race entry fee.
Despite my mess up on the last checkpoint, we had a great race! My legs were slightly tired from my 25k race the day before (!) but held up better than I expected!
We’ll be back – next year, the full Raid!
Race results for team Define Lost: