The Flurry 8k Snowshoe Race

Getting to the start line of The Flurry 8k Snowshoe Race was a victory in itself, given my Superman dive while skating just a month before. I did a short test run three days before the race and didn’t feel the injured muscles near my ribs, and while my legs were tight the next couple of days for lack of run practice, I declared myself ready to race! This would be my first time on snowshoes this winter, my first snowshoe race in two years, and just my second run in a month – what could go wrong?! Oh, and it was predicted to feel like -19 degrees Celsius with the wind. My goals were to make it to the finish line and to have fun in the process.

I arrived at the race site at Marydale Park in Mount Hope (Hamilton) to discover that one of the Happy Trails volunteers lives on my street – small world! I picked up my race kit (a big, awesome mug, a buff, and my race bib) and went back to my car to get organized. I immediately realized that I was under-dressed (unusual for me!), but thankfully I had a Happy Trails hoodie with me for after the race that I decided to wear while racing. I got my snowshoes on and wondered where everyone was, since there were only a few people outside. Turns out they were inside for the pre-race briefing, which I almost missed.

The race

[Photo credit: Sue Sitki]

We were incredibly fortunate that a recent snowfall had blanketed the race course with the perfect amount of snow – not too little, and not too much! We would be running 2 laps of a 4k course, which included a loop and an out and back section.

I tried to position myself well back of the start line, but people kept lining up behind me. Oh well, they would soon find out that they would have to pass me! With a very laid-back 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 countdown, we were off!

Almost immediately I was doubting my ability to run 8k on snowshoes! After running a loop around a field, we hit the full force of the wind and blowing snow head-on! Wow! While I felt like I should be running faster through the windy sections to get out of them sooner, I ended up slowing down and sometimes walking. In fact the entire race was a run/walk combo for me.

[Photo credit: Sue Sitki]

Before the race began, I wondered how visible the course flags would be given the blowing snow. I need not have worried. I could easily spot the flags, and in fact the easiest thing to do was to follow the people who had gone before me and the tracks they left behind! I entered the forest – so pretty – and felt that I was slowing people down. I told the runners behind me to let me know if they wanted to pass. It didn’t take long before I had to pull over anyway – snow was clumping under my snowshoes. Unfortunately, over the course of the race I had to stop and kick my snowshoes against trees between 10 and 20 times! Please send your tips my way. I used ski wax on my snowshoes before the race, but it seemed to have no effect. I didn’t notice anyone stopping as often as I did.

It was really nice to see some familiar faces at the race (Lisa, Mauro, Steve), and to be able to cheer for one another too. Trail runners are a friendly bunch!

[Photo credit: Sue Sitki]

During the out and back section of the course I stepped into the deeper snow to the side of the tramped down path to allow faster people running towards me to pass. In fact the race winner finished before I finished my first loop!

By the second loop runners were much more spread out, though I did run parts with two women named Mary and Andrée (nice to meet you!). Having run the first lap I knew I could run it again. I counted down the kilometres and looked for owls as I ran. Of course.

There were a few non-racers walking on the trail, but none of them wanted to take my place! At the out and back turnaround I spotted a car in the ditch with a police car nearby. The winds were quite ferocious and snow drifts fast accumulating with blowing snow. Thankfully there was protection from the wind in the forest.

The 4k race was set to start 1 hour after the 8k race, and I wondered if I would be passed by a 4k runner before I finished – I was.

At the finish line (I made it!) I was presented with a giant-sized medal! Then I went inside for some hot soup and hot chocolate. Happy Trails is very eco-conscious, encouraging runners to use re-usable cups and bowls, and providing compostable options as well. I used my awesome new mug for soup, then rinsed it out so I could have hot chocolate before heading home.

It was a challenging race, but I’m glad I healed in time to be able to do it!

Actual size of the race medal!

Race stats

  • Time: 1:17:09 (9:39 min/km)
  • Placing women 45-49: 2/4
  • Placing all women: 14/24
  • Placing all runners: 35/46

Thank you Happy Trails for another great race, and Sue Sitki for your amazing photos!

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Race report: Dion Winter Goose Chase 7k Snowshoe Race

Five days before the 3rd annual Dion Winter Goose Chase 7k Snowshoe Race, we finally had enough snow for me to get out on my snowshoes for the first time this winter! And very quickly, I remembered just how much more difficult it is to run with snowshoes compared to running without them.

Awesome big ceramic mug, gel, shot bloks, and a draw prize that I won: a buff.

The race is held at Shades Mills Conservation Area in Cambridge. There is a very small building for race registration, post-race food, and bathrooms – the number of participants is limited because of the venue size.

After a few trips to the bathroom, I got myself and my gear organized in the car, and then put my snowshoes on. A few people around me were strapping snowshoes on for the very first time – many people rented them from the race for just $10 (great way to try them out without investing in your own pair!). I gave a few people advice on where your foot should sit, how to tell the left snowshoe from the right one (mine are not interchangeable), and how to go uphill while wearing them.

Prepping snowshoes. [Race photo]

We all headed down to the beach just before the 10:30 AM race start.

Ready to go! [Picture by Mauro]

After a short pre-race briefing, the race began, and we all started chasing the goose and gander (last year’s female and male race winners). To be honest I completely forgot about them once the race began.

And we’re off! Check out the snow flying in the air. [Race photo]

I loved seeing the chunks of snow flying in the air off the backs of runners’ snowshoes (see pic above). My plan was to run as much as I could, but to walk the steep uphills. I remembered from last year’s race that the biggest hill was at the very end!

No hills yet! [Race photo]

By the time we crossed the beach and entered the woods, runners had spread out. In most parts of the race course, which followed trails through the conservation area, the path was wide enough to allow passing. I remember just one place where we were all running on tramped down trail with much deeper snow on the sides, so whoever was on my tail waited until we got out of that section to pass me.

Shades Mill Conservation Area, Cambridge

I used the runners in front of me as pace setters, trying not to let them get away (but many did anyway). I followed a friend named Ted for a while, then when he stopped to adjust his snowshoes I had to find a new target to chase. I passed other friends Mauro and Lisa (who I met during an orienteering race!), and then didn’t see anyone I knew until the race was done.

It wasn’t too long into the race before I first encountered snow clumping on the cleats of my snowshoes. This tends to happen when the temperature warms up and the snow gets sticky. Clumped snow makes it feel like I’m running on top of a small ball, and my ankles don’t like it at all. I had to continually kick my foot hard into the ground to knock the clumps off. I didn’t see anyone else having the same issues – I wonder if, as a friend suggested, it might be the very aggressive cleat on the Atlas Run snowshoe that causes the problem. I may rent Dion snowshoes next year to try them out.

The course was described in the pre-race briefing as rolling hills – make no mistake, it’s a hilly course! It is also very pretty. We were lucky that there was enough snow for snowshoes, given our winter so far.

The course was very well marked, and the race volunteers were great, ensuring at key intersections that runners went the right way. After the last big hill, which is also the longest (one of those hills that just seems to go on and on and on), I could start to hear people cheering at the finish line.

Nearing the finish line! [Race photo]

For the last couple of kilometres, I had the same guy behind me, and I kept wondering when he would pass me. After this hill? Around this corner? On the straightaway to the finish? Nope, he never did.

I hit the finish line in 54:37, for an average pace of 8:28 min/km. I was happy with how my race had gone, despite the snow clumping.

Just a little bit of clumping going on!

Just past the finish line was a fire, which I enjoyed for a few minutes.

Done! [Picture by Danielle]

I changed into dry clothes in my car, and then headed inside for the best post-race food anywhere – a gourmet pancake breakfast! Not 1, not 2, but 3 types of pancakes (regular, gluten-free, and vegan!), blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, bananas, chocolate chips, Nutella, whip cream, fruit sauce, butter, maple syrup and maybe more! Coffee, hot chocolate, and tea too. What a spread put on by the Cambridge Harriers running club! Thank you!

Best post-race food of any race I’ve done.

Once again, I really enjoyed myself . Thank you Lisa and Greg for another great race. See you next year!

Race stats:

  • Distance: 6.5k on my Garmin
  • Time: 54:37
  • Women 40-49: 6/19
  • All racers: 23/66

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Race report: Snowshoe Raid 2019

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.

On the Bruce Trail.

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. 🙂

Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost

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!

Note: I loved the Kahtoola microspikes. I even forgot that I was wearing them. I also loved my new waterproof socks, which kept my feet warm and toasty.

  • Time: 2:58:23
  • Female teams (not master females): 6/13
  • All teams: 52/110
Pretty sunset on the way home

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Race report: Stars W.A.R. (Winter Adventure Race) – snowshoe orienteering race

Picture this: You’re standing in the forest with a steep downhill in front of you, the ground is snow-covered, there are trees all over the place, you are wearing snowshoes, and you need to get to the bottom of the hill – the faster, the better. Do you carefully pick your way down the slope, bracing yourself against trees as you go, or do you throw caution to the wind and slide down the hill on your butt? This is just one of the scenarios I faced in this year’s Stars W.A.R. (Winter Adventure Race), held at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park. Last year’s race was super fun, so I was looking forward to the 2018 edition. With snow in the forecast, Anne and I left early, but the drive wasn’t bad and we arrived a few minutes before registration was to begin. A pre-race email from the Stars Orienteering Club told us that the course would be challenging and we would need time to plan our route. At registration we received a map, an instruction sheet, and a pair of socks! Anne and I sat down to plan our strategy. Because the map covered a large area, and there were 30 controls, we had to decide which part of the map to focus on. We decided that we would definitely try to get the controls that would get us bonus points (“dog bones” – get specific ones one after the other with no other controls in between and receive a bonus of 40 points). There were 3 sets of these, so that would mean 120 bonus points. Controls ranged in value: 20, 30, 40, or 50 points depending on their difficulty. There were many trails on the map, but we had no idea if they would be visible, given the amount of snow in the area. It made pre-race planning a little tough. We knew that the snowmobile trails would be easy to find, but we weren’t allow to run on them – we could only cross them. However, they would help us to figure out where we were. We highlighted our tentative route on the map, including controls that we might have time for but wouldn’t know for sure until we were racing. We knew that we may turn back before hitting a couple of the controls, but we might be able to pick up a few more on our way back to the finish. It would all depend on how well we were doing, and how much time it was taking us.
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Ready to go!
This would be Anne’s first time running on snowshoes, so we went outside a few minutes early to get her set up.
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Tools of the trade.
I wondered if I was overdressed for the -2 or -3C weather, but only time would tell.
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At the start line (and the finish control).
At 10:30 AM, the race began, with Anne and I chasing the leaders to the approved road crossing spot. Our plan was to go for controls 45, 44, 37, 132/131 (bonus), 41/42 (bonus), 31/32 (bonus), 140, potentially 33, and then 34, potential 147 and 148, then head back toward the finishing, getting 134 and others in that section of the map if we had time (this never happens). You would think that it would be hard to get lost going to the very first control, which was just over 100m from the road, but that’s exactly what happened. We were following people, but also following our compass bearing. We reached the steep hill that I previously mentioned, but when we didn’t find the control as soon as we expected to, we stopped (along with other teams!), re-evaluated, tried to figure out if we had gone too far left or too far right, and then eventually decided to backtrack a bit and head further west. We found it! After the first control, things got a lot better. Because many trails were not visible under the snow cover, we found ourselves using contour lines a lot to figure out where we were. It was excellent practice! Anne and I made a great team. With her super eyesight she spotted some of the controls way away – I would never have seen them that far away without her pointing them out. Oh to be 15!
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[Photo credit: Stars Orienteering Club]
We found every control we looked for, and did end up adding 33, but after 34, we realized that we would not have time to get 147 and 148, so we headed back for the permitted road crossing spot, running in the woods parallel to the road (we weren’t supposed to run along the road) until we were able to cross over. Anne was getting tired, and needed to take more and more walking breaks. My legs were tired from the 6.7k snowshoe race I had done the day before. Running on snowshoes is exhausting! We did pick up 2 more controls on our way back, both relatively easy to find. By this point in the race, other racers has beaten down tracks to the control, so once we were pointed in the right direction, it was pretty easy to just follow the tracks and find the control! We hit the finish line after 2:32:44, receiving a penalty of -30 points for being late. We were treated to a yummy box of pizza per team, plus cold drinks, cookies, and hot chocolate. Anne and I were both surprised to hear that we had placed 2nd out of 7 female teams! I had a great time racing and will definitely be back! Thanks Stars! Race results
  • Time: 2:32:44
  • Points: 550 (after losing 30 for being almost 3 minutes late)
  • Women’s teams: 2/7
  • Overall teams: 12/27
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Race Report: Dion Winter Goose Chase Snowshoe Race

I had such fun at my very first snowshoe race last year, a 4k snowshoe run followed by a 4k road run, that I was eager to do another one. The Dion Winter Goose Chase Snowshoe Race is part of a series of races put on by Spafford Health and Adventure. The rest of the races are in Eastern Ontario, but this one is held at Shades Mills Conservation Area in Cambridge, Ontario. Participants were warned that the venue would be almost entirely an outdoor venue, with race kit pick-up (and washrooms) in a small building. I arrived with plenty of time to register and chat with other racers, staying warm in the last few minutes before the race inside a friend’s car (not everyone could fit in the building, and it was -8 C or so out, colder with the wind). This race was advertised as 7 km, but during the pre-race briefing at the (frozen) water’s edge it was announced that the course was approximately 6.7 km. The guy beside me swore when he heard that – he thought it was only 5k! IMG_0883 During the briefing, we were introduced to the Goose and Gander, the female and male racers who we would be chasing. The idea is that last year’s winners become this year’s targets. With a countdown of 3-2-1 the race was on! Thankfully, it had snowed in the days leading up to the race just enough to make it a snowshoe race and not a trail run. The week before the race, an email from the race organizers warned us that the trails were all icy and spikes may be required on our shoes. It certainly wasn’t tough slogging in deep snow on race day, but it was a snowshoe race – yay!
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[Photo credit: Jason Mota]
The course was really well marked with little flags, arrows, and volunteers (from the Cambridge Harriers Running Club) at key intersections. At the beginning, things were rather congested, but it didn’t take long for racers to spread out. I never did see the Goose or Gander. For a while I was chasing a little guy named Seth, who was being encouraged by his dad running ahead of him. At one point I told him that he couldn’t slow down, he was my pacer! This was a fairly hilly course (I’d love to see the elevation profile), with the most significant climb being the very last climb of the race! This was the only one that I partially walked. I forced myself to run all the hills before then, because once I start walking hills, I give myself permission to walk all of them and give up on running them!
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I stopped during the race to take one picture.
For a good part of the race, I was running on my own, just barely able to see people in the distance ahead of me. It was very peaceful in the forest. I had no idea how far I had run, because I don’t have a GPS watch, and gauging my speed when running on snowshoes is tough. I estimated that I was running 8 minute kilometres. I started to hear cheering from the finish line, so I knew that I couldn’t be too far away. Eventually I reached the second last turn before the finish and was told that I was almost there.
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Picture by Kristin
With just a hundred metres or so to go, I spotted Kristin and John and heard them cheering for me. I crossed the finish line in 53:47, a pace of 8:02 min/km if the course was 6.7 km, and 7:55 min/km if the course was 6.8 km as the results show. It’s pretty exhausting running on snowshoes! I’m happy with how my race went. IMG_0888 Afterwards, we were treated to a super delicious pancake breakfast! The pancakes were accompanied by fresh strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, a berry sauce, chocolate chips, Nutella, whip cream, maple syrup and maybe more! Yum. There was also coffee. After eating I went out to the bonfire and enjoyed the heat for a few minutes before changing into dry clothes. I stayed for the awards (Seth my early race pace setter won snowshoes as a draw prize – he was pretty excited!) and then headed home. It was a great morning! (I even got to meet Deirdre, who I connected with on Twitter quite a while ago but had yet to meet. Hi Deirdre!) Thanks for the fantastic race! Race results
  • Time: 53:47
  • Women 40-49: 10/23
  • Placing: 40/85 overall
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Winter car camping at Mew Lake: Algonquin Outfitters guest post

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

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Mizzy Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Sunset on Provoking Lake West

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy of Jen W.!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lisa, Mauro and I pre-race.

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Two of many fat bikes ready to go!

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

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Quick photo during the race.

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

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

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

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

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Pretty, freshly fallen snow.

Race stats:

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

Overall place: 6/6

Gender place: 4/4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Planning our route pre-race.

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

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

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

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

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

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Yay! A control!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race stats:

Time: 2:24:55

Points: 155 (130 from controls and 25 bonus)

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

You can check out the full results here.

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

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Snowshoeing: Algonquin Outfitters guest post

Take a peek at my latest guest post on the Algonquin Outfitters blog – it’s about snowshoeing: backcountry camping by snowshoe, hiking, running, what to bring, and how to dress. It’s also got a little photo gallery!

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Breaking trails at Arrowhead Provincial Park

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