Running the Bruce Trail End to End: Blue Mountains Section

I’ve now completed 6 sections of the Bruce Trail (there are 9)!

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

The forest felt a little spooky on this wet, overcast day.
Giant puffball.

BLUE MOUNTAINS SECTION

Started the Blue Mountains section: October 19, 2019

Finished the Blue Mountains section: December 8, 2019

Run details

October 19, 2019 – 20th Sideroad/Prince of Wales Road to Lavender cemetery – 18 km (with Kris)

October 27, 2019 – Lavender cemetery to Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area – 22.1 km (with Kris)

November 30, 2019 – Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area to Nottawasaga Lookout Provincial Nature Reserve – 21.4 km (with Kris)

December 8, 2019 – Nottawasaga Lookout Provincial Nature Reserve to Maple Lane in Ravenna – 25.2 km (with Kris)

Run stats

  • # runs: 4
  • # solo runs: 0
  • # runs with my husband Alasdair: 0
  • # runs with friends: 4 (Kris)
  • shortest run: 18 km
  • longest run: 25.2 km
  • average length of run: 21.7 km

Run highlights

Near the Nottawasaga Lookout Provincial Nature Reserve

Prettiest sunrise: The sunrise was so pretty that I had to pull over and take a picture. This was just a couple of kilometres from our end point for the run, where we met to leave one car – not too far from Maple Lane in Ravenna.

Barred owl in the centre of the picture (see brown blob!).

Wildlife sightings: A missed blaze and an accidental short trek off-trail near the Nottawasaga Bluffs meant that my friend Kris and I were led right to a Barred Owl! It was my first time seeing one in the wild (though I have heard many while backcountry camping), and first time ever seeing an owl while I was running (or walking!) – once I saw one while in a moving vehicle. It was beautiful, and had a huge wingspan. Sadly, we couldn’t get too close for a picture, but I promise you, the owl is in the picture! 

Whee!

Most non-running fun/neat finds: Not far from one of the ski lifts at Blue Mountain we found a rope swing, which just begged to be used!

Best natural art: I spotted this on the side of the road as we ran by on a very windy day!

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Trip report: Cross-country skiing and yurt camping at Algonquin February 2019

After such a great experience yurt camping for the first time last winter at Mew Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park, my friend Rebecca and I decided to do it again. This time, we would be joined by Jen, who had never stayed in a yurt before. There is so much to do at Algonquin in the winter!

Our plan was to borrow cross-country skis from Algonquin Outfitters, and in my case, to try them out for the first time in more than 10 years! Last year, we borrowed fat bikes and had a blast!

Unfortunately, Jen was unable to ski due to a knee injury, but she was still keen to get away with us for a few days!

Skiing in fresh snow on the Fen Lake trails at Algonquin after 25 cm of fresh snow had fallen. [Photo by Rebecca]
Snow-plowing my way down a steep hill on the Blue Spruce Resort trails. [Photo by Rebecca]

I’ve already written about my cross-country skiing adventures with Rebecca on the Algonquin Outfitters blog, so I’ll skip that part (it was super fun) and focus instead on winter camping in a yurt!

We pulled into Mew Lake and headed for our yurt. Before even parking our car at our campsite, we had already spotted 2 pine martens. Their little faces are so darn cute!

Pine marten beside our yurt.

Jen had arrived just before us, so we went into the yurt and decided who was going to sleep in which bed, and where we were going to stash all of our stuff. A yurt is much bigger than a tent, but start piling gear in there and it fills up quickly.

Since there were only 3 of us, Jen and I each had a double bed (bottom bunk) to ourselves, with Rebecca on a top bunk. The yurts sleep 6, and while there are 6 chairs, the table is tiny. As you can see in the pictures below, there is a long shelf above the table, perfect for keeping paper towels and kleenex and other things out of the way.

There is an electric heater in the yurt, which takes the edge off the cold, but you still have to dress warmly. As the heater cycles on and off, I often found that I was most comfortable wearing multiples layers, including a winter hat (I may or may not have worn the same long johns and running pants for 3 days straight)! But at night, I was quite comfortable in regular pajamas and my -7C sleeping bag. There is a single overhead fluorescent light, which is plugged into the only electrical outlet in the yurt. This means you have one outlet to plug in your phone, kettle, etc. unless you bring a power bar.

Insider tip: bring a very long extension cord to reach the power outlet outside and behind the yurt. You can feed this into the yurt through a window (they close with velcro), and then you can have an outlet that works when you turn the light off. Otherwise, when you turn the light off, the other outlet turns off too! Jen read up on yurt camping and learned lots of useful tidbits, including putting a sheet on the double mattress to make the bed more cozy!

Note the bedsheet on Jen’s bed! Smart!

Jen also brought a mat for just inside the yurt door, and we all brought “inside shoes” so that we didn’t track snow and water all across the floor. There were a couple of rubber mats to put our footwear on, and several hooks to hang coats. Our door didn’t quite shut properly (it seemed misaligned), so it’s no wonder it never really warmed up in there.

Rebecca, Jen and I.

We had a sneak peak at a newer model of yurt across the road from us, complete with newer bunk beds, a wooden table, and a fireplace! It sounds like all of the older yurts will be replaced in time with the newer model.

Extension cord giving us power even when we turned the light off.

While Jen wasn’t able to ski, she was able to go for walks, so we walked through the old Mew Lake airfield at sunset, which was just as pretty as always.

Jen and Rebecca in the old Mew Lake airfield.

Another time we walked through the old Mew Lake airfield to the Old Railway Trail, then back along the Highland Trail to the waterfall, and finally along the Track and Tower Trail back to Mew Lake.

While we didn’t skate at Mew Lake, there is a rink beside the comfort station (hot and cold running water, flush toilets, a shower, and laundry facilities), complete with hockey nets, sticks, pucks (and shovels!) for campers to use. There’s also a warming tent with picnic tables and a fire in it.

Warming tent and skating rink.

While we were camping, the only occupied campsites were the 7 yurts, and 3 sites with trailers on them (including the camp hosts). It quiet – and lovely!

Our 2nd day at Algonquin saw a snowstorm blow in, and when it was all done the next morning, 25 cm of snow had fallen! We couldn’t leave until a tractor came to plow the roads (which happened before 10 AM). We had to dig our cars out, and sadly, head for home!

Just a little snow fell!

I love that in a yurt at Algonquin you can hang your clothes to dry, be cozy at night, and have nature’s playground at your doorstep. It was a great 3-day mini winter getaway, with cross-country skiing, hiking, card playing, lots of laughs, tons of sweets (and hot chocolate!) and relaxation! Algonquin, I’ll be back!

On the road to our campsite! [Photo by Rebecca]

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Race report: Stars W.A.R.

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!

Route ready. [Photo credit: Kris]

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.

Nearly ready to go! [Photo credit: Stars Orienteering Club]

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.

Oh look, Bruce Trail! [Photo credit: Kris]

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.

At the finish. [Photo credit: Stars Orienteering Club]

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!

Results:

  • Time: 2:25:08
  • Placing (female teams): 4/6

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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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Trip report: 1st time staying in a yurt, at Algonquin Provincial Park in February 2018

Until this year, my winter camping experiences had all involved a tent, with no heat other than a hot water bottle at bedtime! But last fall I decided to book a yurt at Algonquin Provincial Park – Mew Lake – for a weekend of fat biking and snowshoe running! I’m now sold on yurts for winter camping. It wasn’t even that cold while we were at Algonquin (-5C to -10C), but it was so nice to be able to get out of the cold, to be warm at night (I was actually too warm in my -20C sleeping bag), and to be able to hang my clothes up and dry them overnight!
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Yurt on site 54.
The yurts at Algonquin have an electric heater (you can’t control the temperature), and sleep 6, with 2 bunk beds each sleeping 1 on top and 2 on the bottom. There is also a small table and 6 chairs, a shelf over the table, and 1 electrical outlet (well, 2 plugs but one is used by the fluorescent light). There were 3 of us in the yurt, so we had plenty of room for all of our stuff. On Friday night, my friend Rebecca and I took the fat bikes we had borrowed from Algonquin Outfitters out for a test ride. Our plan was to ride part of the Old Railway Bike Trail, but we had trouble getting any traction in the snow (despite fat bikes being made for snow!). When we reached the Old Railway Bike Trail, it was time to turn back – the sun would be setting soon. We were treated to an amazing sunset as we rode through the old Mew Lake airfield.
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Mew Lake airfield at sunset.
The only other time I had ridden a fat bike was last summer, also at Algonquin.
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Mew Lake airfield at sunset.
When we got back to the yurt, our friend Kristin told us that our traction problem was the result of having too much air in our tires! The next morning, we let a whole bunch of air out of the tires, and she was right – we were able to ride!
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Well-fed turkey (not by us) at our campsite.
We headed for Huntsville and the Muskoka Winter Bike Festival fat bike race (which I wrote about here – so much fun!).
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Bikes ready for the fat bike race.
After the race, we headed back to Algonquin and our yurt. I went out for a short snowshoe run, and was treated to a very pretty, quiet, calm forest. I didn’t see a soul – just animal footprints. DSC08340 On our last morning, the 3 of us headed out for a bike ride on the Old Railway Bike Trail. This time, we made it to the trail quite quickly, and actually got to ride the trail. We headed west toward Cache Lake.
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Old Railway Bike Trail.
Once again, we saw no one, but did see animal tracks of all kinds. It was quite fun to ride the same trail that I had ridden last summer in the winter.
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Old Railway Bike Trail.
Sadly, after our ride it was time to head home. I won’t be giving up tenting in the winter, but I’ll definitely stay in a yurt again! Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete Follow me on Twitter: @kyraonthego Follow me on Instagram: @kyraonthego

Race report: Muskoka Winter Bike Festival fat bike race (my first!)

Less than a week before heading to Algonquin Provincial Park to stay in a yurt with 2 friends so that we could spend the weekend fat biking and snowshoeing, I stumbled upon the Muskoka Winter Bike Festival 11k fat bike race, and decided to register! Who cares that I had never ridden a fat bike in the winter, or that my only experience fat biking was last summer at Algonquin? I would have Friday to try out fat biking in the snow before Saturday’s race! My friend Rebecca and I took the bikes that we had borrowed from Algonquin Outfitters out for a test spin on Friday night at Algonquin, and spin we did! We had some serious issues getting any traction, and spent 90 frustrating minutes not going very far. We later learned from our friend Kristin that we had too much air in our fat bike tires! We let a whole bunch of air out, and Saturday morning did another test spin – success! We would be able to ride the bikes after all. DSC08304 We headed for Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, found the race site and registration table, picked up our race bibs and hand warmers, and after attaching the race bibs to our bikes, we were ready to go. Since there was no building nearby and lots of time before the 2 PM start, we headed back for the main building to relax until just before the race was to begin. I did catch the 1 PM race start for the experienced racers, because I had forgotten my water bottle in my vehicle at the race location and had gone back for it. It was then that I heard that the “newbie” race would be quite a bit shorter than 11k. The race organizers made the executive decision to ensure that us newbies had a fun race experience. In fact, part of the 11k course that we weren’t going to ride had a hill so steep that only 1 of the experienced riders made it up (and won a prize for doing so).
DSC08313
Algonquin Outfitters was one of the event sponsors.
Our race course was to be 3 laps of a heart-shaped course. Just before the race began, we had a very short pre-race meeting while everyone was lined up at the start line. There appeared to be about 20-30 people in the race – men, women, and a couple of kids.
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My ride!
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Kristin and I before the race.
And then, the race began! Kristin, Rebecca and I had lined up near the back of the pack, so there was some congestion at the start.
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At the start of the race. [Photo credit: Andy Zeltkalns]
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[Photo credit: Andy Zeltkalns]
As I discovered on the first lap, there were hills on this course! I managed to ride up them without stopping, though I did wonder whether I would spin out on the steepest bits (I didn’t). There was one sloped spot (higher on the left, lower on the right) that I approached from the right on the first lap, but that resulted in me sliding into deep snow and having to put my foot down. On the second lap, I intended to ride it further to the left (higher up) but there was another rider beside me so I couldn’t, and again I had to restart. It took my 3rd and final lap to perfect that spot, to ride far left (high) and be able to pass through the section without sliding down or crashing as others did!
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[Photo credit: Andy Zeltkalns]
I was chasing another woman on the first lap, and passed her toward the end of the second lap. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to hold her off for the third lap. I figured I was probably slowing down, but she may have been as well. With less than 100m to go on the last lap, I passed another woman. I wasn’t sure if any others had been ahead of me. It’s hard to tell when you’re riding multiple laps. I was surprised to see that the big inflatable arch was gone – I thought that it was the finish line. So I stopped (rather than ride into the spectators), confused, and wondered if maybe I had to go back onto the course to finish somewhere else. I asked someone, who clarified that no, I was done, and that they had written my bib number down (they were checking us off as we finished each lap – it was a race with manual timing, not timing chips). According to my watch it took around 28 minutes. The race was hard work but super fun!
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Rebecca and I after the race.
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Rebecca, Kristin and I after the race.
After the race, we were treated to some delicious chili – with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and bacon as toppings! There was also hot chocolate with chocolate bits and whip cream to add on top. Yum! And for others, there was beer. During the awards ceremony I won a $50 gift certificate for Algonquin Outfitters, but I don’t know if it was a random draw prize, or because I did well in the race. I was congratulated on a great race for a new racer when I got my prize. There are no results posted on the race website, so who knows? I did follow up with the race organizers, and apparently I was 9th out of 31 newbie racers, but I’m not sure how I placed compared to the women in the race. In any case, it was a fun race and I hope to be back next year! Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete Follow me on Twitter: @kyraonthego Follow me on Instagram: @kyraonthego

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 food planning for camping adventures

Are you considering going winter camping for the first time, or are you looking for new food ideas to make your winter camping trips easier?

Check out my guest blog post on the Algonquin Outfitters blog, “Winter food planning“.  I give tips for simplifying and pre-trip planning.

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