Race report: Christian Pole Dancing (Urban Orienteering in Dundas)

For my very first experience orienteering in an urban environment, I got to run through the streets of my childhood hometown, Dundas – how fun is that?!

This event was organized as a fundraiser for Christian, one of the Don’t Get Lost junior athletes (and by junior, I mean a teenager who is a foot taller than me and a heck of a lot better at orienteering!). He will be competing at the World Junior Orienteering Championships in Finland this summer.

My friend Rebecca joined me, and while at first we thought she’d be pushing her daughter in her stroller for the race, plans changed and we were kidless.

We arrived at race headquarters at Grupetto about 20 minutes before the race was to begin. We signed in, got a map each, grabbed a little table and planned out our route with a highlighter. We would have 45 minutes to get as many controls as we could. We decided that we would aim for the area where they seemed to be the most clustered together – in other words, we’d stay in the central part of the map and forget the outliers. Each one was worth 1 point, with the exception of one, which was worth 2. And each minute over the time limit you would lose 1 point (steep penalty!). The controls would be small electronic chip readers attached to poles (hence the “pole dancing”), and every participant was given a timing chip to wear on his or her finger (to insert into the chip reader).

Our planned route would have us searching for 9 controls. By “searching”, I mean using a map to navigate the streets – no compass required, and no hidden controls – if you reached the area, you would spot the control.

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Rebecca and I pre-race, ready to go!

After a few short words from Meghan and Christian (and our local MPP Ted McMeekin), the race began! I wasn’t exactly sure how my legs would hold up, given that I did my very first trail race the day before, the Sulphur Springs 10k, and then the morning of the race I rode my bike 50k (no rest for the wicked – or at least those with a half ironman 3 weeks out!).

Right off the bat there was congestion getting started, even though there were only 20-30 people racing – we all set off in different directions!

There was a small group of people in front of us heading for the first control, and the same for the second, but after that, our paths diverged and we were on our own. We did see other participants around town, but we were often going a different direction. Several times I wondered what the people living near the controls thought of random people visiting a pole while carrying a map.

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The highlighter indicates our planned route – we set out in a counter-clockwise direction, starting at the triangle and finding 37 as our first control.

Things were going great, and by the time we got to 39, we knew we had time to add a control not on our planned route – 49. Before going there though, we decided we could do 36 too. This one was close to my old house and very close to a friend’s, and an area in which I have spent hours and hours and hours of my life. In fact, I was very familiar with the entire route we chose! Leaving 32, we had about 7 minutes left before the 45 minutes would be up. We knew we could get back in time. We had enough time to walk – not run – down a set of metal stairs, and then had just a 100m or so before we reached the finish. I put my SI timing chip into the finish line control, and then Rebecca did the same.

We enjoyed a post race drink, and then the awards began. To our surprise, I was the top female! There were winners for top female, top male, and top junior. In the end we had found 11 controls in just over 40 minutes. We had 5 minutes to spare and might have been able to find another one. While Rebecca and I worked together, I won because I punched the finish line first. However, not being a beer drinker, Rebecca went home with a case of Pilsner beer!

Before leaving we checked out the silent auction, and got food to go from the Johnny Blonde food truck.

Urban orienteering is very different from orienteering in the woods. It’s much harder to get lost in urban orienteering, and as long as you can use a map, you can participate! You also have to watch out for cars, and wait for traffic signals! Or sort of wait.

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I look forward to my next urban orienteering race!

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Menu for 3-day Spring Solo Backpacking Trip

Looking for ideas on foods to take backpacking or canoeing? You might find some inspiration in the meal plan for my latest trip. I recently set out on my very first solo backpacking trip, a 3-day hike at Point Grondine Park in the Killarney area. You can read the trip report and watch the trip summary video here.

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I prepared all of my food myself, using lots of fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. The least healthy bits were penguin crackers, M&Ms, Reese’s pieces, pepperettes and gatorade. I dehydrated many things, and portioned everything into single serving sizes.

Here’s what my menu looked like!

Day 1

  • Afternoon snack: pizza gorp, hot chocolate
  • Dinner: curried butternut squash soup with homemade crackers
  • Evening snack: dehydrated fruit and chocolate

Day 2

  • Breakfast: oatmeal with nuts and dried fruit, dehydrated banana, gatorade, tea
  • Morning snack: honey mustard gorp
  • Lunch: tomato and toasted almond spread, homemade crackers, dehydrated vegetables
  • Afternoon snack: fruit leather and dehydrated yogurt, hot chocolate
  • Dinner: ginger mango chicken with cashews, mini pitas
  • Evening snack: dehydrated fruit and chocolate

Day 3

  • Breakfast: couscous with dried fruit, dehydrated banana, gatorade, tea
  • Morning snack: fruit leather and dehydrated yogurt
  • Lunch: roasted eggplant spread, rye crackers, dehydrated vegetables
  • Afternoon snack: pizza gorp
  • Dinner on the way home: hummus, homemade crackers, dehydrated vegetables

I also brought an extra meal of oatmeal with nuts and dried fruit, dehydrated apples, and gatorade, just in case I was delayed for any reason.

Breakfasts and dinners required me to boil water, while lunches were no-cook (however spreads needed to be rehydrated and could be done at breakfast and then carried along with me).

What are your favourite lightweight meals?

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Race report: Sulphur Springs 10k (my 1st trail race)

I went into the Sulphur Springs 10k with low expectations for my performance, given that it was my very first trail race, and I hadn’t exactly been training for it! I’ve been focussed on half ironman training, and other than one 3k trail run along the Bruce Trail in the middle of my weekly long run, my trail running has been limited to running through the woods looking for controls as part of my participation in a weekly orienteering program for adults that started in March (Don’t Get Lost Next).

Alasdair and I arrived at Morgan Firestone Arena in Ancaster in plenty of time to pick up our race kits and stand in long lineups for toilets quite a few times! The Sulphur Springs Trail Race had 10k, 25k, 50k, 50 mile, 100 mile, 100 mile relay and 200 mile races (yes, 200 miles!). All races were run on the pretty trails of the Dundas Valley Conservation Area.

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Pre-race!

With a broken thumb and potentially cracked rib, Alasdair would be running but not racing, being careful so that he didn’t fall.

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Ready for the start!

Our race was the last to start – at 8:15 AM, the race began! I had looked at the course maps before the race, and was convinced that the 10k race was 2 loops of a 5k course. We would be spending the majority of the race running the Headwaters Trail.

The first bit was a fairly steep downhill on Martin Road, and then we turned onto a trail past 4 or 5 photographers with massive camouflaged lenses taking pictures of (or standing around waiting for) birds. The trails were fairly wide in most places, allowing multiple runners to run beside one another. In some places, runners were going in both directions. There was mud – and sometimes, lots of it! Some runners were stepping gingerly in the mud, but I just ran through it! I didn’t want to lose time on the downhill or flat bits. I figured I’d be walking some of the hills later.

My plan was to run at a pace that I thought I could maintain for the entire 10k, with the exception of the steepest hills. I thought I would run them on the first loop, and likely have to walk some on the second. I also decided not to look at my watch, mainly so that I didn’t get discouraged. And since there were no kilometre markers on the course, the time wouldn’t tell me anything anyway!

I decided to power walk the steepest of the hills, and to start running once I reached the top.

At some point, there was a woman just ahead of me with a cyclist to her left trying to pass. I told her to watch out, and after thanking me, she said, “You’re amazing!” “I’m amazing?!” I replied, “You’re 2 feet ahead of me!” From that point on, we ran together. I usually run alone, but it was really nice to have someone to pass the time and distance with. We chatted and running seemed easier! It turns out my new running friend is named Carolyn. I think I convinced her that there were 2 loops, and we kept running, wondering why we hadn’t reached the end of the first loop yet. We started to think that we had made a wrong turn and were on the 25k/50k course. We didn’t see any 10k bibs. We decided to just keep running. Carolyn had never run further than 10k, so she was in for an adventure if we were off course! A little later, I looked behind me and 2 women had 10k bibs on. I said that I couldn’t believe we hadn’t run 5k yet. I looked at my watch: 52 minutes! There’s no way we hadn’t run 5k – it didn’t feel like we were running slowly. One of the women told us that we had already run 8.2k and that there weren’t 2 loops! I wasn’t totally convinced, and I told Carolyn that if it is 2 loops (and we had somehow run further than we should have) that I wasn’t going out for a 2nd loop! There were spectators cheering as we kept going, telling us that we were almost there. It wasn’t until I saw Alasdair with his medal on that I believed we were nearing the finish line!

And then just like that, we were done!

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Carolyn and I.

I looked at my watch, and though I had forgotten to stop it, I knew that we had finished in under 62 minutes. I was shocked. I had figured that worst case scenario it would take me 90 minutes. I really thought that the hills would slow me down.

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Alasdair had a great race too, despite going easy!

I chatted briefly with my friend Mauro, and then found Alasdair and grabbed some post-race food (a banana, some trail mix, and a very salty yummy vegan peanut butter cookie from the Johnny Blonde food truck). We chatted with Carolyn and her son Isaiah for a bit (he ran too), stayed for the awards, and then left. Alasdair’s goal for next year is to beat the 10 year old girl who beat him by less than a minute.

Race stats:

Time: 1:01:10 (6:07 min/km)

Women 40-49: 17/55

All women: 60/174

All runners: 116/275

I did way better than expected (17th in my age group is amazing for me), and still think that the course must have been a little short.

Here’s a pic of the race swag: t-shirt, race buff, medal and sticker.


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I will definitely do this race again. It was well organized and in such a beautiful area. I really enjoyed running without a real time goal, and without paying attention to the time as I went. I’ll have to find some other trail races…

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Trip report (and trip report video): 1st ever solo backpacking trip, at Point Grondine Park

I used to think that I would never want to camp on my own. After all, I’m afraid of what I can’t see in the woods at night, and in particular, of spotting glowing eyes looking back at me! But then I decided to try it – at least once! To be honest I was hoping not to spot any (very hungry just out of hibernation) bears while on my own, but I would have been okay seeing moose or anything else. Hearing packs of wolves this time was not high on my list.

I had heard about Point Grondine Park when it first opened, and thought it would be perfect for a 2-night backpacking trip. It’s on the Point Grondine Reserve in the Killarney area, and is a First Nations owned and operated park, with “over 18,000 acres of scenic natural wilderness landscape, old growth pine forest, stunning river vistas and six interior lakes to explore”.

From the trailhead there is a 5 km hiking trail loop called Merv’s Landing, from which you can access the 21 km Wemtagoosh Falls overnight hiking loop. There are 7 backpacking campsites available (all on the Wemtagoosh Falls loop), 2 of which are “premium” sites. I assumed this meant they would have better views, so I booked H2 for night 1, and H7 for night 2. There was not yet a map available of the trail, so I printed my own topographic maps from an Ontario government site. Later, a map was available from Point Grondine, but you could only pay for it while booking a site. Since I’d already booked mine, I was given a free copy (nice customer service!).

About a week before my trip, I received an email from the park notifying me that recent storms had knocked down many trees onto the trail, and that the interior maintenance crew was doing their best to clear the downed trees. A few days before the trip I got another email from the park, asking me what time I thought I would arrive. It seemed a little odd, but I learned it was because – if possible – a “Trail Guardian” would meet me at the trailhead. Then the day before my trip I received a phone call telling me that site H7 wasn’t ready as a premium site, but I could still stay there. I was also offered a free night’s accommodation for a future trip, since I wasn’t getting what I was promised. I had learned since booking that premium actually meant a wooden tent platform, built up fire pit, and a picnic table. I asked what I was supposed to do if no one was at the trailhead when I arrived, and found out that I should fill out a form and email it back to the park just in case (it provided such information as my emergency contact, tent colour, pack colour, etc.).

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For the first time, I decided to make a trip report video. Check it out, and let me know what you think of it.

Day 1 (Trailhead to H2)

Finally the day of my trip arrived, and I set out for Point Grondine. I arrived just after 12 PM, but there was no one to greet me, just 4 people and 2 dogs leaving after a day hike – oh, and about 1,000 mosquitoes!! They swarmed me as soon as I got out of my vehicle.

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At the trailhead.

The instructions I was sent said that the shortest route to the canoe crossing and the start of the Wemtagoosh Falls loop was to go left/west. Standing with Highway 637 behind me, facing the two possible trail start locations, this didn’t make sense because left was east. In any case, I decided to go left, since on the map it looked shorter. I was surprised that the trail started out as a gravel path. Eventually, I reached a lake and saw a trail marker, so I followed the trail until I realized it seemed to be taking a very long time to reach the canoe crossing. And then I started hearing cars. And then I returned to my vehicle! Oops. I hadn’t started on the correct trail after all (I had started on the canoe portage, right down the middle of the loop). It took a while, but I finally found the actual “left” start to the loop. I’m not sure how I missed it the first time, other than the gravel path being very welcoming!

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I set out again and within the first km I met a couple coming the other way, totally enveloped by bugs. The woman said to me, “It doesn’t get any better!” As I got quite close to the water crossing, there was a sign saying “Water Spyder Ahead”. Last year, there was a raft that you used, with a pulley system, to cross the 20 m body of water. The Water Spyder is no more, with the park website noting that canoes would be available for use. The instructions stated to tie the canoe off. So, I took my backpack off, grabbed a Souris River canoe (my first time paddling a Souris River), a lifejacket, and a paddle, and after putting the lifejacket on and my bag and hiking poles in the boat (and swatting the mosquitoes away constantly), I pushed off from shore and headed for the dock on the other side. However, it was windy. Very windy. And I struggled to solo paddle the canoe across the water. The boat was turning in ways I didn’t want it to turn! I was blown against the rocks once, but then managed to power my way to the dock. It was at this point that I realized there was no way I could leave the boat here, because 1) there was no rope to tie the boat off, and 2) the alternative was carrying the boat up a steep rock face, which was probably impossible and definitely dangerous. So I sat there for a minute or two, then paddled downstream and over to the shore, pulling the boat up on the land and flipping it over, with the lifejacket and paddle tucked underneath. I think it was here that I finally put my bug jacket on.

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After my windy paddle.

I hate hiking with the mesh on my face (it’s harder to see), but I really had no choice. I continued hiking, going up, and down, and up again. The terrain was definitely challenging in spots, and I was thankful to have hiking poles.

The trail was marked with a combination of small white signs on trees, ribbon in trees, inukshuks, and painted arrows on rocks. However, I found that there was not enough signage. Many times the trail changed direction and there was no sign warning of the change. It was frustrating at times.

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One of the inukshuks on the trail marking the way.

I reached campsite H1, which was marked with a campsite sign, but when I reached what I thought might be H2, there was only ribbon in trees. I decided to follow it, and sure enough, spotted the raised wooden platform of my first premium site (I had hiked nearly 10k). Hilarity ensued as I tried to set my tent up in the wild wind! (If you haven’t watched the video yet, do it.) I eventually gave up on the platform and set it up on the hill. I could have placed rocks in the corners of the tent, but I was worried that the tent poles were going to snap while I was trying to set it up!

I found a tree to hang a bear bag, tied my rope around a rock and threw it over a branch. I also set up a tarp in case I had to cook breakfast in the rain the next morning.

After having my afternoon snack, I gathered wood for a fire, and then built my new KIHD stick stove. I had made some fire starters a few days before the trip, and decided to use a wax coated cotton ball this time. I broke tiny pieces of wood off the pile I had gathered, and put it into the stick stove (which I had placed inside the fire pit). It lit on the 2nd match, and within less than 10 minutes I had boiled 1 litre of water. I made hot chocolate, and added the rest of the water to my butternut squash soup to rehydrate it. I ate that along with homemade sesame pepper crackers for dinner. Yum. I got the fire going again and boiled 1 litre of water for a hot water bottle in my sleeping bag.

I decided to go to bed early, rather than build a bigger fire, because the bugs were still bothering me (though not as much at this windy site!). Yes, I was in the tent at 6:30 PM! When I eventually tried to go to sleep, I couldn’t! There were people zooming around the lake in a motor boat, playing loud music. It was very annoying. I think it was probably 11 PM before I fell asleep. The loons were quite loud in the night, but otherwise, silence.

Day 2 (H2 to Trailhead)

When I woke up at about 6 AM, I could hear rain gently falling on my tent. I got an updated weather forecast on my InReach, which told me that the chance of rain was 80% on Day 2 and 60% to 70% on Day 3. I decided that I would hike to my next campsite, and decide there based on the rain and the bugs whether I would stay another night or hike all the way out to my vehicle.

I packed up everything inside my tent, packed up the tent itself, and moved everything under the tarp where it would stay dry. I took my bear bag down, had a big cup of gatorade, and then boiled water for tea and for my oatmeal. Once my KIHD stove had cooled and my dishes were done, I packed everything else into my bag, took the tarp down, and headed out!

Given that I was considering packing it in and going home on Day 2, I could have just gone out the way I came. However, since I drove all that way to see Point Grondine, I wanted to hike the entire Wemtagoosh Falls loop! I set out for H7, in the rain but dry under my rain gear. Quite early in my hike I slipped stepping up onto a wet boulder, falling and having my pack land on my left shoulder. It was a bit sore but manageable. After that I was even more careful with my footing – rocks were wet, logs were wet, and I didn’t want to risk falling again. Whenever I stopped (or even slowed down!) I was swarmed by bugs, so I hardly stopped at all. After 4 hours of hiking I did stop to get my snack out of my pocket, but ate it as I walked (not easy to do while carrying 2 hiking poles). I never saw campsites H3 or H4, but did spot signs for H5 and H6. There were lots of ups and downs, some very steep, and some requiring some very careful manoeuvring. At one point I had to squeeze myself between 2 rock walls and pull myself up.

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It was challenging to squeeze between these rock faces while climbing a steep hill.

The prettiest spot on the trail is definitely Wemtagoosh Falls. It would be a pretty spot to stop and have lunch, if one could stop without being attacked by mosquitoes and black flies. They were so bad I had them in my eyes, ears (!), nose, and mouth – I lost count how many I swallowed.

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Wemtagoosh Falls.

At some point I spotted a grouse on the trail, and later, a tiny toad. I saw moose scat a few times, and some carnivore scat, but not much else.

Before I reached H7 I had pretty much already decided that I was going to keep hiking and go home on Day 2. Hiking in the pouring rain, and being swarmed when I stopped was not exactly fun. I knew that I would eventually reach a fork in the trail, where turning right would take me back to the canoe, and turning left would take me back to H1 and H2, where I started that morning.

It was taking a very long time to get to the canoe, and the longer it took, the more frequently I looked at the InReach app on my iPhone, scrolling on the map and trying to figure out where the turn would be. Unfortunately, I started to have a problem scrolling. I figured it was because my screen was wet, so I stopped, dug the toilet paper out of my bag, ate bugs, and wiped the screen off. It had me in the Bahamas. Oh to be in the Bahamas. I was concerned, not knowing exactly where I was and why I hadn’t reached the canoe. I continued to hike. To my horror, I came upon a campsite which I decided had to be H1 (they were not numbered). I had missed the turnoff to the canoe. I had expected to see a sign saying “Water Spyder Ahead”, or some other indication that to return to the mainland you had to turn right. But I saw nothing. I stopped, got out my map and compass, and based on the 2 islands that I could see and the direction I was facing (north), I confirmed that I had to be at H1. Seeing that I had a cell signal, I called my husband to tell him that I wasn’t sure where the canoe was, and that I had to backtrack. I had been keeping him posted using the messaging function on my InReach, but calling was faster! It was good that someone knew I was off track. Since I had come from the canoe to H1 yesterday, I knew that if I took the trail back I should find the canoe. However, I was worried that I would miss the canoe (again!) and continue on to H7. I told myself to just stick to the left. If there was any split in the trail, I had to go left. It took a while, but eventually, I spotted the canoe. I cannot tell you how relieved I was!!! I knew from that point I would find my way out. Aside from the mosquito swarming, crossing the water was much easier this time, as it wasn’t very windy, and I knew exactly where to land the canoe.

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Still smiling, despite the rain and bugs.

On the other side, I decided that when I got to the trail junction I would go left (west), so that I could walk the small section that I missed on Day 1! That way, I would walk the entire length of the 2 trails – and then some!

Because of the bugs I never did stop to eat my lunch, but as I was nearing the end of my hike, I was getting very hungry! The last bit seemed to take forever, but eventually, I arrived back at the trailhead. PHEW! According to my InReach, I hiked about 16.5 km.

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I’m glad I went out alone, but I won’t be giving up my camping partners any time soon!!

Here is the menu for my trip.

Here is the review of my KIHD Stove Ultimate.

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Posted in Backcountry camping, Hiking trip reports | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Menu for 4-day early May hike of Western Uplands Trail at Algonquin Provincial Park

One thing I love about planning for a backpacking trip is planning the food! My friend Cheryl and I decided on a menu for this trip, then split up who would prepare what. We cooked, baked, dehydrated and then froze everything. Finally, Cheryl brought her food to my house, where I verified that it was all there, and organized it all into Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4. Our trips always start after lunch, so we pack all our food away in our bear bag except for our afternoon snack on Day 1.

For breakfast, we boil 2 L of water, using it for tea/coffee and hot cereal, and the remainder, if any, for warming up the little bit of dish water we use in our pot.

For lunches, we always have no-cook meals.

For dinners, we sometimes bake fresh bread like bannock or corn bread, or cook something like eggs, but otherwise we usually just boil water to add to something like pasta or soup.

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Food ready to go!

This trip though, we didn’t exactly follow our menu! What started out as a 4-day backpacking trip turned into a 3-day trip because of the cold and wet conditions. You can read the trip report here. Below you will find our planned menu, and then what we actually ate!

Planned menu for 4-days for 2 people

Day 1

Afternoon snack: trail mix

Dinner: spinach quinoa soup with bannock

Evening snack: dehydrated fruit and chocolate

Day 2

Breakfast: oatmeal with dried fruit + tea/coffee + gatorade

Morning snack: pizza gorp

Lunch: leftover bannock from Day 1 dinner with cheese, nuts, jerky, dried fruit

Afternoon snack: harvest oat squares

Dinner: pasta Alfredo with bacon, veggies, parmesan

Evening snack: dehydrated fruit and chocolate

Day 3

Breakfast: granola + tea/coffee + gatorade

Morning snack: trail mix

Lunch: apple peanut salad wrap

Afternoon snack: energy squares

Dinner: egg wraps with bacon, veggies, salsa

Evening snack: dehydrated fruit and chocolate

Day 4

Breakfast: strawberry peach muesli + tea/coffee + gatorade

Morning snack: harvest oat squares

Lunch: tomato flatbread, hummus and cheese

Afternoon snack: pizza gorp

 

Drinks

gatorade

tea and coffee

hot chocolate

Actual menu for 3-days for 2 people

Day 1

All meals as planned + hot chocolate before dinner

Day 2

Breakfast as planned

Morning snack as planned

Lunch as planned

Dinner (at this point, we decided that we didn’t want to spend any more time outside in the freezing cold under a tarp in the pouring rain to cook our dinner): wraps with dehydrated veggies and dehydrated salsa (not rehydrated – a little hard to eat!)

Evening snack: harvest oat squares

On Day 2, we organized all our food into stuff we would eat, and stuff that would require cooking and we would bring home.

Day 3

Breakfast (knowing that we had to hike 20 km to cut our trip short by a day and get back to our vehicle, we opted for an early start and a no-cook breakfast): Day 4 harvest oat squares + gatorade

Morning snack: Day 2 evening snack dehydrated fruit and chocolate + Day 3 morning snack trail mix + Day 4 afternoon snack pizza gorp

Lunch: Day 4 Tomato flatbread and cheese (no hummus) + gatorade

Afternoon snack as planned

Dinner: Day 3 apple peanut salad wrap

Leftover food

Day 2 pasta Alfredo with bacon, veggies, parmesan

Day 3 granola

Day 3 egg from wraps

Day 4 strawberry peach muesli

Day 4 hummus

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Trip report: 4-day early May hike along the Western Uplands Trail at Algonquin Provincial Park

As our 4-day hike along the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail at Algonquin Provincial Park got closer, the weather forecast continued to deteriorate. The forecasted temperature dropped (10C on Day 1 to 2C on Day 4) and the likelihood of rain increased, so much so that Environment Canada issued a rainfall warning for heavy rain. And yet we still set out for our early May adventure…

Day 1: Rain Lake access point to Brown Lake (13-14 km)

After picking up our backcountry permit at the Kearney park office, where we were assured that even low-sitting vehicles have been getting through the Rain Lake road, we headed for the access point! We ate our lunch in our vehicle (and spotted a vole while doing so!), then started our trip.

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Starting the tracking function of my Garmin Inreach SE+.

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All smiles as we start our trip, warm and dry and energetic.

After crossing Rain Lake on a wooden bridge, the trail follows an old railway bed for nearly all of the first 8.7 km, at which point you reach the 3rd (and top) loop of the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail and need to proceed in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction (you can also access the trail – and loop 1 – from Highway 60). We were headed for Brown Lake, so we went in a clockwise manner. The next 4 km takes you through the forest, up and down and up again. With all the rain in recent days, the trail was very wet in sections, requiring us to carefully choose our steps so as to avoid getting a soaker. There were also stream crossings to manoeuvre by picking a path along partially submerged rocks and logs. We found the trail lacking in signage, and many times we had to consult our map to figure out which way we should probably go. Since we were hiking so early in the season, there was new growth everywhere in the forest, including on the trail – it hadn’t yet been beaten down by hikers’ feet. So without very many trail markers in trees, we found it quite frustrating at times (suggestion: when the trail turns, put a marker!). Perhaps it would be easier to follow the trail in the summer!

We reached the first campsite on Brown Lake, but having looked at a map posted along the trail, we thought there were 3 campsites and decided to continue to the last one to shorten our hike the next day. We met 3 men at the 2nd campsite, who warned us about a stream crossing they had done earlier, having travelled in the counter-clockwise direction. They said that they had to build a bit of a bridge with trees but that it wasn’t too stable and we might still get wet feet. We continued on to the next campsite, but soon realized there wasn’t one. We returned to the 1st one and settled in, setting up our tent and tarp, and throwing a rope over a branch for a bear bag. We had decided that we didn’t feel like scavenging for wood to make a fire, so opted to not have one at all. I set out to make hot chocolate on our MSR Dragonfly stove, but soon discovered that we had a problem – (insert guilty party’s name here) accidentally packed only 1 of 2 required bottles of chemicals to treat our water (they work together), meaning that we would have to boil all of our water to avoid getting sick from nasty tiny critters invisible to the naked eye. We debated scrapping our plans for hot chocolate so that we could save fuel, but then decided to have a campfire because 1) it wasn’t raining (yet), 2) wood was dry (still), and 3) we may not have brought enough fuel to boil all our water for 1 minute! So we gathered wood, and had a great fire, boiling as much water as we could use for hot chocolate, dinner, breakfast, and to carry with us the next day. We had a delicious dinner of spinach quinoa soup and fresh bannock. Yum. Full menu for the trip is here.

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Our one and only campfire of the trip.

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Short-lasting pretty sunset on Brown Lake – before the rain!

Possibly the best feature of this campsite was the fully enclosed toilet – 3 walls, a door, and a roof! Who cares that the door didn’t shut?! Someone had tied a rope to the handle, and Cheryl modified it so that it could be hooked onto a nail so the door stayed closed. From the outside, we pushed a log against the door to keep the inside dry!

Within 5 minutes of us climbing into the tent for the night, the rain began. With 2 very short exceptions, it continued to rain for more than 40 hours!

We had one Nalgene bottle with us, so we filled it with boiling water, and after Cheryl’s feet warmed up, I had it for the rest of the night. Unfortunately, I was still cold and had trouble sleeping (despite my sleeping bag rated at -7C). In the night the loons were quite loud, but I didn’t mind! We also heard a beaver slapping its tail against the water a couple of times.

Day 2: Brown Lake to West Otterpaw Lake (6.5 km)

We woke up to pouring rain, so we cooked our breakfast under our tarp. We packed up camp, and set out for West Otterpaw Lake.

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Much of the trail looked like this. Note the useless bridge!

We knew that we would encounter the stream that the guys warned us about “just around the corner”. Turns out we hiked for quite a long time before we found it. Rather than crossing the stream where they had apparently cut down a live tree (!) and lay it across the water, we chose to cross further downstream, where we could use a combination of partially submerged rocks and logs to cross. Would the rocks be slippery? Would the logs move? We picked our way slowly, very slowly across the stream, and safely made it to the other side. I was very thankful for my hiking poles! It would have been next to impossible to cross without them.

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One of many stream crossings – this one perhaps the most harrowing.

The temperature was such that whenever we stopped, even to quickly eat a snack, we got cold. It took hiking for 10 minutes or more to warm up again. Unfortunately, Cheryl and I brought shells for our gloves that eventually soaked through, meaning that we couldn’t keep our hands dry and warm. I had extra pairs of gloves, but if I wore them in the pouring rain, they would be soaked within seconds!

When we originally planned out and reserved our route, we fully intended to hike 16 km on Day 2, going the long way past East End Lake and Loft Lake before arriving at West Otterpaw Lake.

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We saw moose poop all over the place, but no moose! I did spot this antler though!

But then driving up to Algonquin, we wondered whether we really wanted to hike 16 km. We decided that we would figure it out as we were hiking. In the end we decided to shorten our hike by walking along a portage to Lady Slipper Lake, and following the trail to Gervais Lake and then West Otterpaw Lake. We thought that we would set up camp and then go for a day hike, hiking along part of the trail that we had originally intended to cover. However, once we arrived at camp, we had no desire to go anywhere. It was still pouring rain, and after setting up camp, we climbed into our sleeping bags, eventually got warm, and never wanted to leave them!

From 2 PM until we went to sleep that night, we tried to keep warm in the tent, going out only a couple of times to use the toilet and hang our food bag. And by toilet I mean seat without a lid, which meant that it was soaking wet wood that I refused to sit on – instead, I hovered.

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Look how close the moose was to pooping in the toilet! For those unfamiliar with backcountry toilets, that wood all over the ground is the lid.

It was raining so hard that as soon as you pulled your pants down, your backside and exposed clothing started to get wet! Not fun.

At some point that afternoon, I think, I spotted a hare between our tent and the toilet. It was very cute, hopping off into the woods.

While we had originally planned a 4-day trip, we started discussing options for shortening our trip. We could pack up right away and hike as far as we could back in the direction we came, spending the night on another lake and hiking the rest of they way out the next day. Or we could wake up early the next day and hike 20 km out to our vehicle. Or we could continue with our trip, facing another full day of hiking in the pouring rain, where the temperature was expected to drop again, and where we weren’t sure whether our rain gear would eventually soak through with all the rain! Our plan had been to stay on Weed Lake that 3rd night. We were worried though that our fleece sweaters would get wet and we would lose our layer of warmth. And to be perfectly honest, camping in freezing temperatures in pouring rain is not fun! I would rather have had colder temperatures and snow. At least we would have been dry and been able to wear gloves. That evening, while out of the tent to hang our bear bag, it started to snow! It was a rain/snow mix.

We decided to head home early, getting up at 6 AM the next day and hiking 20 km out to our vehicle. This would be further than either of us had ever hiked with 35+ pounds on our backs. We knew that it was doable, with the last 8+ km mostly flat.

We also scrapped plans to cook any more meals, not wanting to hang out in the cold under our tarp to cook. Instead, we poached our snacks and no-cook lunch from Day 4, and ate those for dinner and breakfast the next day.

Once again we filled our Nalgene bottle with boiling water, and this time, despite the cooler temperature, I slept better!

Day 3: West Otterpaw Lake to Rain Lake access point (20.7 km)

We were up at 6 AM and on the trail by 7:20 AM. Packing up the tent and tarp takes longer when your hands are frozen and don’t work right! Our rain coats and pants were still soaking wet in the morning – they hadn’t dried off at all overnight (not surprising).

Using my new Garmin InReach SE+, a satellite communicating 2-way messaging device that can also summon emergency assistance (rescue), we informed our families that we had modified our route and were intending to hike all the way out that day. They confirmed that they had received the messages. So far, I love my InReach!! Peace of mind for me and my family.

Hiking out the way we went in meant that we would have to do the stream crossing again that was a little harrowing the first time (it probably took us 30 minutes to figure out where to cross safely!). However, I found it easier the 2nd time, maybe because I knew I could do it. We eventually arrived at our Day 1 campsite, and used the luxurious toilet with a roof and door! We continued on our way, and were later stopped in our tracks when we reached a stream that was totally impassible – without walking through it! We spent a while – a long while – walking upstream and downstream, evaluating our options for crossing it. We couldn’t remember how we did it on the way in, but figured the water was so swollen that likely we just picked our way easily over rocks. But now, we had to weigh the options – cross over rocks with fast flowing current, and steps a little too long for our liking? Or precariously balance along a log 2 feet above the stream (not in my lifetime!)? Or take our gaiters, boots and socks off, roll up our pants, put on our sandals and walk through the stream. Yup, the last option. The water was cold, but not quite as freezing as I expected it to be. I was worried that we wouldn’t warm up! But we used our quick dry towels to dry our feet and continued on our way! Phew.

And speaking of gaiters, we were so happy to have brought them. Several times we had to step into puddles or streams and never once did I get a wet sock! Love my Outdoor Research gaiters and my Salomon Quest hiking boots!!

Once we reached the old rail line, we knew we would make it to our vehicle! However, the last few km’s were hard on our feet. The packed ground was surprisingly painful. It seemed that the end would never come. The pouring rain continued, and each time we turned the corner, we saw more trail… we thought the bridge would never come!

But finally, we spotted the bridge! A couple of guys heading out on a canoe trip were at the access point, and one of them agreed to take our picture. Amazingly, I was still dry under my wet rain coat and pants!

 

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Did I mention the rain?

Another time, I would not set out on a trip with such a terrible weather forecast. We were colder than during our winter snowshoeing trip this February.

Nevertheless, this trip presented us with several challenges that we were able to overcome! Algonquin, I’ll be back!

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This is the map page on my computer for my InReach SE+. The little dots are the log points, and the big dots (just a few) are the hourly tracking points. I was just learning how to use the device, so inadvertently stopped the trip for a segment of our hike.

I saw today that Algonquin has closed the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail and the Highland Backpacking Trail due to flooding – I’m not surprised!

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Posted in Backcountry camping, Hiking trip reports | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Gear review: Drill Deck – Freestyle Swim Training & Drill Game for Triathlon

A planned short break from swimming after the 2016 triathlon season turned into a 4+ month break when I couldn’t get motivated to get back into the pool more than once or twice. It didn’t help that my local Y’s swim schedule changed, with no more Monday to Friday 12 PM swims. This had been the perfect time slot for me. Instead, I would have to shift my lunch hour, or swim at 5:30 AM, which has been very unappealing lately.

In February I was contacted by Drill Deck to see if I would be interested in trying out their swim game – the Drill Deck Freestyle Swim Training & Drill Game for Triathlon. It sounded intriguing, and I wondered if it might provide some inspiration for me.

My free copy of the game arrived in the mail in March, and one morning shortly after 5:30 AM, I was at the pool ready to try it out with my friend Rebecca.

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Essentially, you roll the 2 dice, which determine whether you will swim laps or do a drill, and how many laps of the pool you do it for. If you’re doing a drill, then you draw a card from the deck, and do the drill you’ve chosen. Then you roll the dice again to determine whether you will swim laps or do a drill… and repeat.

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Colour-coded drill cards

The cards are colour coded by area of focus, so if on a specific day you really just want to focus on one thing – e.g. speed – then you can just pull out the appropriate cards and choose from them. The categories are:

  • Stroke
  • Breathing
  • Body position
  • Kicking
  • Open water sighting
  • Speed

Each card gives a description of the drill, and then a tip.

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Example of a drill card

Rebecca and I had fun trying out the game after swimming some warm up lengths. We even cheated a few times when we rolled “LAP” but really wanted to do drills – we overruled the game.

I have continued to use the game in my swims. Since I previously had semi-private swim lessons with a coach, I have tried many of the drills included in Drill Deck before, and was familiar with how to do them. If you weren’t sure what they meant, the Drill Deck website provides additional information for each of the drills, including videos.

Drill Deck doesn’t replace a swim coach, but it can definitely reduce the monotony of swimming endless lengths of front crawl. Sometimes, I’m perfectly happy to just get a specific swim distance done in a given amount of time, but other times, it’s nice to try some drills that I might not think of on my own, and to do it in a fun way.

I would recommend the game to someone who gets bored easily swimming lengths, or just needs a bit of inspiration to get back in the pool.

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