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

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

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

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


Preparing my route pre-race. [Photo by Ilona Dobos]

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

Albion Hills

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


Lined up and ready to go. [Photo by Ilona Dobos]

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

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

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

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

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


Looks like we’re chuckling over my tumble. [Photo by Ilona Dobos]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Done! [Photo by Ilona Dobos]

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


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


With my new racing buddies, John and Kevin. [Photo by Ilona Dobos]

 Thanks to the STARS Orienteering Club for such a great race. Can’t wait for the next one!

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Menu review: Hiking the full length of the Coastal Trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park

Curious to see how the planned menu for my hike of the full length of the Coastal Trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park compared to our actual menu, whether we were satisfied with the food we brought or had constantly rumbling tummies? Read on!

The planned menu is posted just below, but additional information can be found in my original post on the menu.

Where we planned to use a recipe, you’ll see a (F), (L) or (T) after the recipe name (and the corresponding page number). The books are as follows:

  • A Fork in the Trail by Laurie Ann March (F)
  • LipSmackin’ Backpackin’ by Christine and Tim Conners (L)
  • The Trailside Cookbook by Don and Pam Philpott (T)


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All changes to the planned menu are indicated in red text in the table below. We made a few changes before the trip:

  • naan bread replaced corn bread and bannock, because it weighs less and required us to bring less fuel (to bake the bread) – however, there is something to be said for warm, freshly baked bread on the trail!!
  • store bought trail mix replaced pizza gorp and honey mustard gorp because Cheryl ran out of time to prepare them
  • homemade energy bars replaced Harvest Oat Squares because Cheryl’s daughter made them and saved her time!


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My favourite meal was Thanksgiving on the Trail, which is essentially turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries and gravy. I would definitely make it again!

Our most memorable meal may be our egg veggie/bacon/cheese wraps… as soon as I added boiling water to our dehydrated eggs, they turned bright orange… we tasted them, and they weren’t eggs, but Kraft Dinner cheese powder!!! Not sure how that happened. I’ve never intentionally bought Kraft Dinner cheese powder before. Must have been a mix-up in a bulk bin!


Pasta Alfredo with dehydrated veggies and sauce, and topped with Parmesan cheese.

The only meal that needs adjustment in the future was our rice cereal on day 5. It wasn’t filling enough as is, and could have used more fruit or nuts.

Overall, we were happy with our food choices! We did come home with some leftover trail mix, and some of the food from day 8.


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Packing list: Hiking the full length of the Coastal Trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park

Here is a complete list of all the things we had with us on our hike of the full length of the Coastal Trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park. We brought separate gear for car camping at Agawa Bay our first night (but didn’t end up car camping), and our last night. I didn’t use any of the separate gear, other than bringing blankets into the tent when I thought it was going to be quite cold with the wind (it wasn’t).


Clothing (including what I was wearing):

  • 2 bras
  • 2 pairs underwear
  • 3 pairs socks
  • 1 pair zip-off pants
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 long sleeved shirt
  • 1 lightweight MEC Uplink hoodie
  • 1 rain coat
  • 1 rain pants
  • 1 winter hat
  • 2 pairs fleece gloves
  • 1 pair dish gloves to keep fleece gloves dry
  • 1 long johns top and bottom
  • 1 pair hiking boots
  • 1 pair sandals
  • 1 baseball hat
  • compression bag for clothes
  • sunglasses
  • quick dry towel
  • toiletries
  • 1 watch


  • 2 bowls
  • 2 spoons
  • 1 dishcloth
  • 1 six cup pot and lid lightweight
  • dish soap
  • pancake flipper
  • parchment paper
  • 2 insulated mugs
  • 1 nalgene bottle (400 ml)
  • 2 large ziplocs marked with a line at 2L for treating water
  • water treatment drops
  • 2 water bladders (2 L size)
  • MSR Dragonfly stove
  • MSR Dragonfly stove servicing kit
  • KIHD stick stove
  • 1 flint
  • Outback oven tea cosy
  • Outback oven scorch protector (not used)
  • Matches (several boxes)
  • 700 ml white fuel split between 2 bottles of 325 ml (one filled up, one filled to the maximum fill line)
  • 1 Swiss army knife (not used)
  • 1 pocket knife
  • 1 bear bag with bell on it (waterproof bag)
  • 1 bear bag without bell on it (waterproof bag) (not used)
  • rope for hanging bear bag
  • homemade tarp plus thin lightweight rope x5
  • food!


  • 1 Sierra Designs Zilla 2 tent
  • 1 MEC Perseus -7 sleeping bag
  • 1 North Face -7 sleeping bag
  • 1 pillow
  • 1 thermarest 3/4 length
  • 1 thermarest full length lightweight
  • 2 compression bags for sleeping bags
  • 2 bags for thermarests


  • 2 headlamps with extra batteries
  • 1 bear spray (not used)
  • 1 sunblock
  • 2 cameras with extra batteries
  • 1 GoPro
  • 1 camera tripod
  • 1 park map
  • 1 compass (not used)
  • 1 GPS with extra batteries
  • 2 cell phones
  • 1 Garmin InReach SE+ satellite 2-way communication device
  • 2 driver’s licences, credit cards and money
  • 1 emergency kit (Gorilla tape, buckles, dental floss, notepad and pencil, matches, mini bungees, emergency blanket, fire starting materials, needle and thread)
  • 1 first aid kit (miscellaneous bandaids, gauze, tape, compression wrap)
  • hiking poles
  • pen
  • 5 rolls toilet paper (used 3+)
  • 2 backpack rain covers
  • 2 whistles
  • 1 lightweight saw
  • solar charger
  • 1 vehicle key!



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Trip report: Hiking the full length of the Coastal Trail at Lake Superior Provincial Park

Wow. What a hike! Lake Superior never disappoints.

Lake Superior Provincial Park has been one of my favourite provincial parks in Ontario ever since I first discovered it in 2010. The natural landscape of the park is simply stunning. Approximately 1 1/2 hours north of Sault Ste. Marie, it’s quite a drive for me to get there (more than 10 hours), but so worth it! Read the blog post I wrote called My 10 favourite things to do while camping at Lake Superior Provincial Park. Or Channelling my inner artist at Lake Superior Provincial Park. I love this place!

In previous visits I had hiked different sections of the Coastal Trail, which runs from Chalfant Cove in the North to Agawa Bay in the South, but I had never hiked its full length – or anything close to it! With my husband and kids I hiked from Katherine Cove north to Robertson Cove, spending one night camping in the backcountry. We loved it, and I was eager to explore the entire trail with my friend Cheryl.

The park describes the Coastal Trail as follows:

  • The most challenging and demanding trail in the park, the Coastal Trail takes you along the high cliffs and rocky beaches of Lake Superior. The trail extends from Agawa Bay to Chalfant Cove.
  • The trail ascends and descends over cliffs and rocky outcrops and crosses beaches of boulders and driftwood. Use extreme caution when hiking this difficult terrain. The rocks can be very slippery, especially when wet with dew, fog or rain. Windblown trees may obstruct the trail.
  • Blue, diamond-shaped symbols mark where the trail enters forested areas. Rock cairns mark exposed sections. Generally the trail hugs the coastline. If you lose the trail, continue along the shore and eventually you will find the trail again.
  • South of Gargantua, the Coastal Trail is extremely rugged and very demanding. Between Gargantua and Rhyolite Cove the trail climbs over 80 metres (260 ft.) to spectacular vistas over the lake.
  • The park’s geology is most dramatic on the coast where waves have exposed the rock shoreline. Rhyolite and Beatty coves are particularly interesting. Along the way, sand and cobble beaches are nestled in coves, providing shelter for campsites.
  • All backcountry campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Campsites along the coast are shared by hikers and paddlers.
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From Friends of Lake Superior website: http://www.lakesuperiorpark.ca/index.php/park-info/park-area

Hiking the Entire Length of the Coastal Trail

Take a look at my video trip report(Note that in a couple of sections the heavy wind makes it a bit hard to hear what I’m saying. Just turn the volume up! I’ve also added a bit of text so that key information isn’t missed.)

Day 1: Thursday, September 28 (South-western Ontario to Lake Superior Provincial Park)

At 6:06 AM we were on our way to Lake Superior! We stopped into the Twilight Resort just south of the park to confirm our shuttle for the next morning. We had arranged to be driven from the Visitor Centre at Agawa Bay to Gargantua, where we would start our hike the next morning by hiking the northern section of the trail. However, we made good time driving to the park, so we decided to ask whether we could get a shuttle that night instead of the next morning. Our shuttle driver agreed, so after paying, we headed for the park and the Visitor Centre to pay for our backcountry permit, get changed into our hiking gear, and wait for our 5:30 PM pick-up. Before we left, we chatted with the Park Interpreter, who gave us some tips, and told us to come back once we were done to let her know how it went.

Our driver arrived in a pick-up truck and we headed for Gargantua. It was a 20 minute drive to Gargantua Road, and then 42 minutes of speed, bumps, sudden braking, swerving, and general roller-coaster like driving. I guess it comes with the territory when you’ve been running shuttles for 30 years and know the (single lane!) road like the back of your hand. We were so relieved to get out of that truck, both of us feeling pukey.


We walked a mere 300 m to our first campsite on Lake Superior. We set up a tarp in case of rain, our tent, and a bear bag rope over a tree branch. We were surprised to find tiny black flies (not the black flies I’m familiar with) attacking our heads and making us itchy. Thankfully, we only saw them the first night.

At midnight we awoke to the sound of thunder far in the distance. Over the next hour or so, it got progressively closer, until it was very very close. Heavy rain started, and with it, puddles formed in our two vestibules. Then Cheryl noticed that there was water flowing below our tent floor – and a lot of it. The water accumulated more quickly on Cheryl’s side, so she tried to hold the tent footprint up to make sure the water went under it. Once the storm passed and the rain nearly stopped, we decided to move the tent. We couldn’t believe it when we moved it and saw that the only puddle in the campsite was the one where our tent had been – at a depth of about an inch of water! We moved the tent to higher ground, and were shaking our heads because when we set the tent up, it didn’t look like a depression to us! Were we ever wrong. Thankfully, everything inside the tent stayed dry!

Day 1 hiking summary: Gargantua road to 1st campsite (300m)

Day 2: Friday, September 29

On our first full day of hiking, we were up at 7 AM and on the trail at 9:15. We find that it always takes us about 2 hours to get going, from the moment our alarm goes off to the first step away from our campsite. Our routine was to pack up everything inside the tent before getting out of it, pack up the tent, cook a hot breakfast (you can find our full menu here, and a review of the menu here), and then pack up the tarp, kitchen stuff and everything else. Two hours seems like a long time, but very little of that time is us just sitting there enjoying our hot cereal and tea!

We headed north for Chalfant Cove, hoping to be able to also see Warp Bay and Devil’s Chair on our way back. We thought that Chalfant Cove was 7 km from the Gargantua Road, but we learned as we hiked and read the distance markers that it was actually 7 km from Gargantua Harbour, which was 2 km from the road. So, our hike would be even longer than expected. The hike was easy but boring, through woods that seemed never-ending. There were very few points that were scenic. We had decided to do Chalfant Cove first at the recommendation of the Park Interpreter, and if there was time, to do the other “fork” of the trail on the way back. By the time we reached Chalfant Cove, which was very underwhelming, we pretty much knew we would be heading straight back to the campsite. We had already hiked 10 km! There was one pretty spot close to Chalfant Cove – Indian Harbour, and a nice set of rapids in the woods, but that was pretty much it. The return hike was long, and perhaps even more boring. Our feet were getting sore from the hard ground. Once we reached our campsite, we made dinner with my KIHD stick stove, had a campfire, and headed for bed. We shared a hot water bottle. The only people we saw that day were 3 people staying at the campsite next to us – they seemed to be “car camping” (including shuttling their kayak from their site to the road by car). We saw 2 grouse during our approximately 7 hour hike. We hiked between 6 to 8 hours every day.

Day 2 hiking summary: Gargantua north to Chalfant Cove and back (20.4 km)

Day 3: Saturday, September 30

On our second full day of hiking, we made good progress at the start on pretty flat ground. Our pace slowed when we hit the hills and the technical sections, which required us to carefully pick our path across the rocks and boulders. There were many many ups and down, and carefully plotting the next footstep or placement of our hiking poles was mentally exhausting. This section of the trail had spectacular views and over 80 metres of climbing. I spotted a creature that could have been a pine marten, or an otter, or mink, or maybe even something else. I only caught it’s back end as it scurried up a hill. We reached Rhyolite Cove, which is an interesting spot from a geological point of view.

We didn’t quite get as far as we had hoped to, which was half way between Gargantua and Orphan Lake, approximately 10 km. Instead, we managed just 8.8 km and were a bit discouraged, thinking that if the rest of the trail was as difficult, we might not be able to hike the entire thing.

Day 3 hiking summary: Gargantua south to south of Rhyolite Cove (8.8 km)


Day 4: Sunday, October 1

Since we had hoped to get half way to Orphan Lake on Saturday (but didn’t), we wanted to get as close to Orphan Lake as we could on Sunday, our third full day of hiking. The night before we decided to set our alarm for 5:30 AM, and to be on the trail by 7:30 (by which time there would be enough light to hike), but before we went to sleep I changed the alarm to 6. We were heading out at 8 AM, and once again made good progress to start. But then… well, let’s just say things didn’t go exactly as planned. We were following the blue trail markers when we reached huge boulders with no blue marker and no cairn to mark the way. We carefully picked our way down the boulders, but we were headed precariously close to the edge of the rocky cliff, and figured this couldn’t be right. But when we looked back, the blue marker was perfectly positioned for people hiking south to north, so we figured it must be correct. The rocks were wet, and the “path” too close to the lake for comfort – not to mention impassible in our opinion! We picked our way higher along the rocks and eventually had to turn into the woods, because we couldn’t go further south. We hoped that we would find the hiking trail in the woods, but instead, all we found were more boulders and drop offs and challenging bushwhacking (and no trail!). We decided to bushwhack back to the last blue marker (navigation 101: go back to where you last knew where you were), and to try – again – to go down the boulders. It took a while, but we eventually made our way to the blue marker. Climbing down the rocks the second time was faster, and then when we went a bit closer to the water, we saw a cairn and that the path wasn’t quite as treacherous as we thought!! PHEW. We were back on track. We figure we lost 30-60 minutes in this section.

After this section, we made good progress. Sometime in the last hour I chose the wrong rock to stand on and fell forward, landing hard on my right knee. At least that’s what I remember. Cheryl asked me if I fell forward how come she found me facing another way. Who knows! My knee was not happy on the uphills, and eventually developed quite a bruise, but ibuprofen and sleep seemed to help. The pain was completely gone after a couple of days.

We ended up at a campsite just north of Orphan Lake, which meant that we had gained ground and were getting back on track distance wise. We saw many dragonflies on this day, but no people. It was also very windy and wavy.

We used my stick stove again to cook dinner, but didn’t heat up a hot water bottle – it was too warm out!

Day 4 hiking summary: South of Rhyolite Cove to North of Orphan Lake (11.5 km)

Day 5: Monday, October 2

On our 4th full day of hiking, we were up in the dark again and hiking by 8 AM. There was a really pretty sunrise! Spot the relatively new windmills in the picture below.

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Sunrise north of Orphan Lake

We reached the Baldhead River and Orphan Lake trail quite quickly, and then began hiking the Bald Head. We expected some pretty views as we climbed higher and higher, but didn’t get many good vantage points through the trees. For once we were both hungry shortly after beginning our hike – our breakfast wasn’t filling enough! We stopped for a snack at a campsite just after the Bald Head, and then as we continued our hike we started to hear cars – the trail was getting close to Highway 17. Our shuttle driver had told us that once we started hiking south from Gargantua, the Orphan Lake trail would be our first opportunity to bail if need be. We’d have to hike the trail to reach the road, but it would only be a few kilometres. The first time the Coastal Trail reaches the road is at the Coldwater River. We had lunch at a campsite just before the river, and then when we reached it, we debated taking our boots off, putting our sandals on, and walking through it, but instead opted to just follow the trail to the road and back to the lake. The only people we saw on Day 5 were in cars at the Coldwater River.

At some point during the hike I was stung on the back of my leg by a wasp or yellow jacket. I hadn’t seen the nest on the ground, but Cheryl spotted it after I walked past it, and as she commented, I felt the sting! Then I saw the wasps or yellow jackets flying around it. Cheryl made a break for it and came through unscathed.


Three sizes of rocks coming together at one spot.

We had to do lots of bouldering after lunch, pretty much until the trail comes out at Robertson Cove. I had hoped to be able to camp here, because it’s such a beautiful spot, but we didn’t know if the timing would work out. Lucky for us, it did!


Robertson Cove from the north.

We set up camp, and then “swam” in one of the pools of water on the “island” (it’s not really an island because there is a sand spit that leads to it). In reality we splashed ourselves “clean” and froze in the cold water! I didn’t want to get my hair wet in case it didn’t dry before bedtime. I changed into clean clothes for the first time since our hike began, and after rinsing the dirty ones, hung them to dry.

Because our hike was shorter, we actually had time to just relax in the tent for a while. It was awesome! Eventually, we got out of the tent to make dinner, which ended up being my favourite meal of the trip – Thanksgiving on the Trail. It was essentially turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries and gravy! YUM.

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Pretty proud of my tiny toothbrush – I cut a regular sized one down to save weight.

After a tiny bit of rain began to fall, we ran around grabbing our stuff from bushes and branches so it wouldn’t get any more wet. Thankfully, the rain was short lived and we enjoyed another campfire before heading for bed.

Day 5 hiking summary: North of Orphan Lake to Robertson Cove (9.6 km)

Day 6: Tuesday, October 3

On our fifth full day of hiking, we set out early again in hopes of getting as close as we could to Sinclair Cove. It was another windy and wavy day, with the sound of the thundering waves a constant background noise, except when we were hiking through the woods.

For the first time in several days, we saw moose scat.

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After just under 3 km, we reached Katherine Cove, where I spoke to someone other than Cheryl for the first time in days! I asked a man from Manitoba to take our picture.

I was impressed by the new toilets in the parking lot. It’s amazing what days in the woods makes you appreciate. I could be extravagant with toilet paper!

From the time we reached Katherine Cove until we arrived at the Sand River, where the trail curves inland to the road, and then back again to the water, we walked on sand beaches. It was such a beautiful area, one that I had barely explored before. It’s environmentally sensitive, so there are no campsites in this area. We tried to walk on the wetter sand, because usually it was harder packed and easier walking. But it was a fine line between easier walking and getting wet feet from the waves!

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At the Sand River, we had a snack, and debated walking across the river in our sandals, but it looked too deep, so once again, we took the trail up to the road. For a while, we followed 6 little birds who were eating something being washed in from the lake, but as we got closer, they would fly a little further away.

We stopped at a campsite for our lunch, and then continued on our way. While eating our lunch, we spotted 2 ducks swimming side by side, continually diving down then almost immediately coming back up. We’re not sure what they were – not loons, not cormorants. In any case, they were fun to watch. The wind was very strong, so at different points we had to time our rock crossings so that we didn’t get soakers. At our campsite we “bathed” again, but it was c-c-c-c-cold! We picked the best of the 3 poor tent locations, and were glad that we only had a 2 man tent. Anything bigger wouldn’t have fit. As it was we were on quite a slope, and had roots under the tent floor. It was our worst campsite of the trip, but we did manage to put a tarp up over a rock which provided dry seating during a thunderstorm!

Speaking of thunderstorms, this one came very close to our campsite too. So close that we were under the tarp discussing the point at which we would go into the woods and crouch down on 2 feet, assuming the “lightning position”. I have since found an excellent source of information for backcountry campers from the US government called Backcountry Lightning Risk Management.

The storm passed eventually, and while we never did use the wood we had gathered for a campfire, we got into the tent without getting soaked or fearing for our lives.

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Hiking summary: Robertson Cove to North of Sinclair Cove (13.9 km)

Day 7: Wednesday, October 4

Our 6th full day of hiking was supposed to be our last, but time would tell how much ground we would cover! The rain from the night before meant slippery rocks from the get go. We walked along the beach where we were camped, but because of the wet rocks, strong wind and waves lapping the rocks at the shore, we decided to bushwhack our way straight up a hill. It wasn’t easy. We walked a short way in the woods, then headed back down, where we picked our way along the rocks (mostly out of the lapping waves) and then found the trail marker sending us back into the woods.

Each day, I thought that the hardest part of the hike must be behind us, but each day, I was surprised with new challenges on the trail.

On day 6 we decided to take the 300 m or so side trail to see the pictographs. I have visited them a few times, but never in such high waves. There’s no way I would walk out onto the rock to see them. In fact, the park closes them in mid September due to the weather, and removes the chain that you can use to make your way across them. There are signs along the trail that read, “Death and injury have occurred when highly unpredictable waves have washed visitors off the rock ledge while viewing the pictographs. Extreme caution is necessary at this site. Rocks and ledge are slippery.” I was able to see the first couple from the base of the stairs.

We did a lot of squeezing between rock faces (at challenging angles) after the pictographs, and carefully picking our way up and down rocky cliffs. This section scared us before we even started it when it said that the 7 km to the Agawa River (a few km’s before we would reach Agawa Bay and the Visitor Centre) would take us 6 hours! I thought in my mind that even when we are going slowly, we aren’t that slow! It was 10:45 AM at that point.

In fact, it only took us 4 hours to cover that distance, and when we reached the Agawa River, we knew that we could push on and reach Agawa Bay and the Visitor Centre. The last few km’s were tough mentally, because while the tough climbing was done, and only relatively flat trail was left, the trail seemed to go on forever. We were ready to be done.

It was just after 4 PM when we arrived at the Visitor Centre! We did it. We hiked 80 km in the 6 days we had originally planned on. It wasn’t easy. As Cheryl said, it was the hardest parts of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park over and over again (we hiked the entire thing in spring 2016). The Coastal Trail at Lake Superior was exhilarating, breathtaking, challenging, mentally and physically demanding, exhausting, scary, and ever-so-empowering.

After our rather unremarkable finish (no bands playing, no crowd cheering), we went inside and chatted with the Park Interpreter and employee of the park store, and asked the Park Interpreter to take our picture outside.

We paid for a night of car camping, picked a campsite on the lake, and had a hot shower! Afterwards I made myself a cup of hot chocolate (Cheryl had already had a coffee from the Visitor Centre) and then we made our quinoa soup which we ate with homemade crackers. And to top it off, we ate homemade apple crisp. Yum.

It was super windy that night, but we were cozy and dry in our tent!

Hiking summary: North of Sinclair Cove to Visitor Centre at Agawa Bay (14.8 km)

Day 8: Thursday, October 5 (Lake Superior Provincial Park to south-western Ontario)

Our alarm went off at 6 AM on our last morning, because we had a long drive ahead of us. We packed up our things, and off we went.

In summary:

  • Each day we hiked between 8.8 km and 20.4 km, which took from 6 to 8 hours.
  • We saw dragonflies, birds, grouse, and some kind of weasel, but no bears or moose.
  • The weather mostly cooperated, with us never having to hike in the rain. The night time temperatures were warmer than expected, and day time highs mostly comfortable for hiking hours on end. I’m not saying we didn’t sweat!
  • The ground varied from sand to dirt trail to tiny pebbles to slightly bigger rocks to larger rocks to big rocks to boulders to cliffs! You name it, we walked/climbed/ scrambled on it – some footing was solid, and other steps required physics calculations! We learned to step where our foot would “catch” if a rock moved or our foot slipped.
  • The terrain included flat portions, but many many ups and downs and more ups. We hiked around a corner to see yet another hill to climb.
  • We couldn’t have done it without our hiking poles.
  • The Lake Superior coastline is incredibly beautiful.


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Race report: Turkey Trot orienteering double header

On a sunny fall day with the temperature forecasted to reach 31 degrees Celsius, feeling like 40+ with the humidity, who wouldn’t want to run their very first orienteering double header?! I set out for Cambridge, Ontario, where the Toronto Orienteering Club and Ukrainian Orienteering Club were jointly hosting the Turkey Trot, a long-running fall classic. This would be my first time participating.

Middle Distance – Dryden Tract (Toronto Orienteering Club)

The morning race was a middle distance race set at the Dryden Tract, a trail system popular with dog walkers, whose dogs were running wildly off leash before the race began. I wasn’t bothered.


There were 4 courses to choose from: beginner, intermediate, short advanced, long advanced. The latter two had all trails removed from the map! Each increased in length and difficulty. I registered for the intermediate course, which would be approximately 3.3 km “as the crow flies” (in other words, if you travelled the most direct route from point to point), despite the map saying 3.5k.


Before the race begins, you need to clear your SI timing chip so new data can be added to it. You then need to check it to make sure it worked.

This was a low key event, with a very short pre-race briefing just before the race was to begin. Runners were sent off in (approximately) 2 minute intervals. I very quickly caught up to the person in front of me before we found the first control, but it wasn’t long before we separated. I overshot the 3rd control, but got back on track for the 4th and 5th. And then… control 6 happened… the distance between control 5 and control 6 was the longest between any 2 controls on my map. I wasn’t sure whether I should bushwhack my way there (750 m?), with the potential to go way off course if my bearing wasn’t accurate, or to follow the many trails. I decided on the trail route, but quickly got confused as to which trail I was on. I even asked a random hiker if he knew where we were, but he had never seen an orienteering map before, and wasn’t very helpful. Of course, if he had been helpful, then I would have been cheating! After way too long, I started considering just walking north to the road, heading back to the start/finish, and giving up! But I didn’t, and I eventually found myself very near to where I thought control 6 should be. As another racer ran by, I asked him if I was where I thought I was, and he confirmed that I was. Yay!

The rest of the race was relatively uneventful, except for me kicking a root, and ending up prone on the ground with a cut knee and elbow. Thankfully, I was fine and able to continue! After the 12th control, it was a short run to the finish. In the end I ran 5.14 km (according to my phone) in 1:36:50, and finished in 4th place out of 6 competitors. The two behind me got an “MP” result – a mispunch, meaning they either missed a control or arrived at a control in the wrong order. All the results are posted on the event page.


As one of the younger competitors helpfully pointed out after the race, “You have a little dirt on you.”

Lessons learned:

1) Looking back on the race, I realize now that when I didn’t know where I was on the map, I would have saved a lot of time had I just travelled to the north east corner of the map (either using trails or bushwhacking). From there, I could easily have gotten back onto a trail and found control 6. Instead, I was concerned about taking the wrong trail and ending up too far south – I should have just used my compass and gone north! It took me a full 30 minutes to find control 6 (in the list below, the time on the left shows how long it took me to find the control, and the time in brackets shows the elapsed race time)!

  • control 1 4:56 (4:56) 
  • control 2 3:36 (8:32)
  • control 3 9:25 (17:57)
  • control 4 4:00 (21:57)
  • control 5 7:57 (29:54)
  • control 6 30:00 (59:54) —- YIKES!
  • control 7 6:07 (1:06:01)
  • control 8 7:11 (1:13:12)
  • control 9 3:51 (1:17:03)
  • control 10 7:53 (1:24:56)
  • control 11 4:36 (1:29:32)
  • control 12 4:27 (1:33:59)
  • finish 2:51 (1:36:50)

2) The second thing that I learned is that I should not carry the piece of paper with control descriptions in my hand, unless it is in a plastic sleeve. It was hot out, I was sweating, and I managed to rub very important information off my sheet! Not only could I barely read the symbols describing what I was looking for, but I couldn’t see the control number so wouldn’t have known if I arrived at the correct one had there not been other people around me for the last few that I could ask. If I punched the wrong control, I too would have been a “mispunch”! I will be buying an arm sleeve for future races.

Scan 36

3) The third thing I learned is that I need to study all the little symbols more!

I was thankful to have run with ice cold water in my camelbak – some did the race without any water. There was a selection of fruit and cookies at the finish, along with lots of water. I compared notes with others, and then headed by car to the 2nd race site.

Sprint Distance – Wellington County Forest Little Tract (Ukrainian Orienteering Club)

The afternoon race was called a sprint race, but it was actually longer than the morning race and should have been categorized as a middle distance race (the organizers said this, not me!). People were surprised and confused that the afternoon races were longer than the morning ones. I didn’t mind. Once again, there were 4 courses to choose from, and I went with the intermediate course.

We were started in 2 minute intervals. I was one of the last to start. Right away, I found this course more runnable, and the trails more dependable! I overshot a few of the controls, and found myself arriving at controls at the same time as a woman who was walking (while I was running and walking) – she clearly had superior navigation skills! I enjoyed this race more, because I was never too far off where I thought I was on the map. If you look at the map, you’ll see that the area of the map really was a “little tract” – long and narrow.

Scan 38

Despite the heat and humidity, I wasn’t too uncomfortable. I kept drinking my water, and all was good! I didn’t even face plant. In the end I found all the controls and finished in 1:14:04, running 5.3 km, a little more than the 3.5 km “as the crow flies” estimate (despite the map saying 3.8k). I finished 4th out of 5, with a mispunch behind me. Again, there was fruit and cookies at the finish.

The results for the 2 races were combined for overall results, putting me 3/5 (the 4th and 5th were mispunches). I’m not sure why more people didn’t participate in the two events. They were super fun! The trails were great, and the garter snake population healthy (I saw 5 between the two races, including a big one).

My only complaint was the lack of a toilet at the trailheads, but there were bushes…

I’m looking forward to racing again and putting some of what I learned into practice!


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Race report: Rev3 Niagara Falls Barrelman Swim/Bike 2017

2017 was to be my 4th time participating in the Barrelman half ironman (the only point to point triathlon in Ontario), until a tender foot forced me to switch into the swim/bike at the last minute. Too many fun things going on this fall to injure myself any more!


Alasdair and I went to the Welland International Flatwater Centre for the pre-race briefing, picked up our race kits (quick and efficient process as always), checked our bikes into transition (where they would spend the night under the watchful eyes of the Welland Police), did a short practice swim, and watched one of the event staff (Malcolm) rescue a wayward buoy and bring it to shore. Good thing he used to be a varsity swimmer – Alasdair and I would never have caught it blowing down the recreational waterway!

We had a delicious dinner at Bravo Pizzeria and Grill in Niagara Falls, and went for a short walk to see both the American Falls (left picture) and Canadian Falls (right picture). We prepped and organized our race gear, and hoped for a good night’s sleep!

Not so much.


Our alarm went off at 5:30 AM, and after a quick breakfast (a banana, oatmeal and yogurt for me), we left the hotel and headed for the Upper Rapids parking lot, where we would leave our car for the day. Having done this race before, we parked as close to the race site as possible to avoid a longer walk at the end of a long day, but as far as possible from the shuttle buses we were about to board.

We arrived at the race site in Welland around 7 AM, with plenty of time to set up our stuff in transition before the 9 AM race start. Since this is a point to point race, you have to be careful to leave the right things in the right places. At registration you get different bags to organize your stuff:

  • black bag to put your swim stuff in after the swim leg (wetsuit, goggles, swim cap, sunblock, etc.);
  • red bag for the things you’ll need for the run (e.g. running shoes, a hat, sunblock, gels, etc.); and
  • clear bag for whatever you want access to right after the race (e.g. a change of clothes, sandals);

Since I was doing the swim/bike, I didn’t have to worry about a red bag, but those doing the triathlon or bike/run events gave their red bags to volunteers at T1 (or at the shuttle bus at Upper Rapids), who would drive the bags to T2 and put them at your spot in transition. Just before the race I handed my clear bag to volunteers, who would have it waiting for me after the race was done.

It was really foggy first thing in the morning at the race site, but the sun came up and the fog cleared before the race began.

Just before 9 AM the US and then Canadian national anthems were played, and then the pro wave took off. Alasdair started at 9:06 and me at 9:12.

2k Swim

I decided not to follow the underwater rope (wire?) that is used to keep rowing markers in place, knowing that while it would eliminate the need to sight while swimming, it would be much more congested!

My swim started well, though my left goggle was foggy right from the start. I had no issues all the way to the first turning buoy. I was even swimming pretty straight. I turned, crossed the waterway, and turned again to swim parallel to shore. It was here that I found myself accidentally right on top of the guide wire, so I decided to just go with it and follow it as long as I could. I’m a convert. I loved not having to sight, despite twice having someone try to push me off it. It was definitely more congested, but I’m confident in my (slow) swimming ability and wasn’t too bothered by it (just annoyed). Somewhere along this stretch I noticed my hair in front of my face – somehow it had escaped the swim cap. I made the final turn and headed for shore, hoping to see a sub 50 minute swim. It wasn’t to be, though my swim went really well. As I stood up and felt my head, I realized that the swim cap was barely on my head – the tight goggle strap is all that held it on.

When I reached the transition zone I headed straight for the portapotty nearest my bike (thank you for spreading them around the transition zone this year!). I took my wetsuit off, dashed in quickly, and headed for my bike. I had a very short conversation with a few women around me, one of whom said she never has a problem finding her bike after the swim (because she’s a slow swimmer and everyone else is out on their bikes). I said it was the same for me, and another athlete commented on how we turned a negative into a positive! I slathered sunscreen all over myself, ate a banana, and took off. It was quite a long run to the mount line, since I was way in the back corner of the transition zone.

86k Bike

Due to some freshly begun road work just before race day, the bike course had to be rerouted, resulting in an 86k route instead of the planned 89. It didn’t bother me. I was going to get a PB at this race no matter what!

We were warned at the pre-race briefing that some of the road sections were rough, but that the pavement would be spray painted to flag the worst of the hazards, like potholes and freshly cut out sections of pavement.

My ride started out great, with me averaging 30 km/h for the first 30 km or so. I was pleased! Since I wouldn’t be running afterwards, I knew that I wouldn’t need to take advantage of the bottle exchange, since drinking 1 bottle of gatorade and 1 of water would be enough for me. I also carried more food than I needed, but did end up having 4 small homemade chocolate coconut balls, and 1 Endurance Tap maple syrup energy gel from the 2nd bike aid station (I grabbed it as I rode through) – wow was that ever delicious!

2017-09-17 | 2017 Rev3 Barrelman Triathlon

I’m always surprised by the super speedy guys who zoom past me on the bike course – and not early on. I noticed a couple of guys in the 40-44 age group this time, who started 6 minutes ahead of me. Did they really swim that much slower than me? Did they get a flat and have to fix it? I’ll never know!

My favourite part of the bike course (other than the last 100 metres!) is the part along Feeder Road where I get to count turtles. This year, I counted 22 painted turtles, 1 duck, 1 cormorant and 1 heron. It helps to pass the time!

I also like the section along Lake Erie, and noted this year there weren’t any white caps as I rode by!

At some point I passed a woman who yelled to me that it was her that told me during the Wasaga Beach Olympic triathlon that she had read my blog, and that I had exchanged something with her husband. I was confused, and replied, “I exchanged what with your husband?” She yelled, “Yeah!” It was after the race that I ran into her again – Kim!  – and found out that her husband Dan and I had put medals around each other’s necks at Wasaga. Mystery solved.

Later, I experienced another racing first – I rode past 12 or 13 riders on horses walking down the road. Several of the riders cheered for us as we rode by.

The remainder of the ride was pretty unremarkable, except that I started to have pain in my wrists (I’ve been doing physio for sore wrists/forearms) and had to give them a rest – more and more frequently as the race progressed. I was disappointed, because as I rested them (I don’t have aero bars), I had to slow down.

I was relieved to finally arrive on the Niagara Parkway (another scenic part of the ride), knowing that I was nearing the end of the bike course.

As I approached the dismount line, I was not for a second feeling like going for a 21.1k run! I was no longer disappointed that I was “only” doing the swim/bike. I ran to my spot in transition, even though my race ended when I crossed the mat into transition. I racked my bike, took my helmet, shoes and socks off, hit the portapotty, then walked a big loop around to the finishing chute, where I ran (slowly) to the finish line.

2017-09-17 | 2017 Rev3 Barrelman Triathlon

I happened to run in just after the 4th male finisher, who was breaking the tape for his age group. John Salt (race director) shook my hand, and I received a finisher’s hat and medal from volunteers. As usual, the volunteers at this race were stellar!


Alasdair and all the other runners had to contend with running in very hot/humid weather, while I sat in the shade near the finish line. I also stood for a while at the bike dismount line to cheer in the last few cyclists, including one who got a flat and bent rim at 68k and proceeded to run/walk the rest of the bike course – in his bare feet! There was also Joe, who “got lost twice!”, and earlier on, Jeff, who was pulling his father in a bike trailer (and also pulled him on the swim in an inflatable boat). Very inspiring athletes all around!

Once again, John Salt and his team did a fantastic job organizing and executing this race. I’ll be back.


  • 2k Swim: 51:13.2 (2:33 min/100 metres) (27/33 women 40+, 35/43 women, 56/78 athletes)
  • 1st 54 km of the 86k ride: 1:48:19 (29.91 km/h)
  • Next 32 km of the 86k ride: 1:10:01 (27.43 km/h)
  • 90k Bike: 2:58:19.3 (28.94 km/h) (19/33 women 40+, 26/43 women, 45/78 athletes)
  • Time: 3:55:22.6 (19/33 women 40+, 26/43 women, 45/78 athletes)

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How to plan a menu for backcountry camping

Are you considering going on a backpacking trip or a canoe trip, but aren’t quite sure what you would eat?  There are lots of things to keep in mind when you’re designing your menu, but really, it’s not that hard! You can buy everything ready to eat from the grocery store, or do like I do and prepare, cook, and dehydrate everything myself. If you’re looking for sample menus, look here.


Fresh banana, dehydrated strawberries, kiwi and mangoes, and fresh cooked chocolate chip pancakes.

Things to consider:

  • How many people will be on the trip?
    • Some meal ideas, like individual pizzas, might work for 2 or 3 people, but not for 5 or 6 because of the length of time it takes to cook each pizza (unless you’re bringing multiple stoves or are cooking on a grill over a campfire).  Pasta, on the other hand, scales up nicely.
  • Will you be bringing food just for yourself, or sharing meal prep and cooking?
    • Be prepared to compromise on the food you eat.
  • How many days is the trip?
    • For a 2-day, 1-night trip, you could bring frozen meat for your dinner (e.g. steaks or chicken breasts), but if your trip is longer than this, you’ll have to bring other sources of protein (such as beans), or bring freeze dried or dehydrated meat or eggs. Food safety is really important. Don’t let your frozen food get warmer than fridge temperature (at or below 4 degrees Celsius or 40 degrees Fahrenheit) before you cook it.
    • Consider how long that fresh pear will last in your bag before it’s a mushy mess! Some fruits and vegetables last longer than others, such as apples, carrots, and peppers.
  • What time of year are you camping?
    • If you’re camping in the snow, you don’t have to worry about food spoiling, but remember that everything will freeze – frozen peanut butter doesn’t spread very well!
    • Will you want a hot beverage to warm you up?


      Warming up with a bag of rehydrating fruit.

  • How many main meals a day will you have?
    • Will you have main meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner, with snacks in between? A main meal at breakfast and dinner, eating frequent snacks in between? A quick snack at breakfast and bigger meals later? I have main meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a morning snack, afternoon snack, and evening snack.
  • Will your main meals be hot meals, or will some be “cold”?
    • I always have a hot breakfast and dinner, but a no-cook lunch, which means I can eat it wherever I happen to be when I’m out exploring.
    • If you want to get going quickly in the morning, you might want to consider having a no-cook breakfast.
  • Do you want to prepare food to eat while you’re out exploring?
    • Cooking is one thing, but do you want to have to assemble meals, chop vegetables etc., or would you prefer a ready made meal?
  • Do you want to be able to eat without stopping?
    • Will you be happy to sit down and take a break from hiking or paddling, or do you want to eat something without stopping, such as trail mix or an energy bar?


      Sometimes I pre-make this at home, wrap it up, and on the trail all I need to do is eat!

  • How much variety in your menu do you want?
    • Are you happy eating the same thing for breakfast every day, or do you like to change things up? Are you sick of oatmeal by the third morning, or is it comfort food for you? For a multi-day trip I may bring the same snack for a couple of days, but otherwise, every meal is unique.
  • Are there special dietary needs or restrictions?
    • For example, is someone on a low salt diet? Celiac? Allergic to nuts? Can’t get through a camping trip without s’mores?
    • Some meals and snacks are easy to customize for individual tastes – for example, individual pizzas can be loaded with veggies – or not! Trail mix can be heavy on the nuts – or goldfish!
  • How can you incorporate healthy foods like fruits and vegetables into your menu?
    • Dehydrated fruits and vegetables can be snacked on as is, or rehydrated to go along with meals. For example, I love eating dehydrated bananas first thing in the morning, and having rehydrated strawberries and other fruits in my hot cereal.
    • Look for prepackaged meals that include vegetables, or buy them on the side.


      Fresh cooked pasta with rehydrated green and red peppers and tomato sauce.

  • Consider favourite snacks as a pick-me-up when the going gets tough.
    • You’re likely expending a lot of calories on your backcountry trip! A bit of junk food may be just what you need to push through a tough afternoon – or day!
  • Are you backpacking or canoeing? How much food weight do you want to carry?
    • If you’re trying to lighten your food load, consider adding freeze dried or dehydrated foods to your menu.
  • How many calories do you need each day?
    • It’s a good idea to know how much food is enough to keep you happy and energized (it may take some trial and error)! I have learned that I burn far more calories hiking than canoeing, so I need to plan accordingly.
  • What cooking equipment will you bring with you?
    • Will you be cooking on a campfire with a grill, or using a portable stove?
    • Will you have a single pot, or are you bringing a frying pan or a 2nd pot?
  • Do you plan to simply boil water to rehydrate things (such as prepackaged dehydrated meals), or will you be baking fresh bannock?
    • If you’re just boiling water, you’ll use less fuel, but there’s something to be said for freshly baked bread on the trail!
  • How much food prep and cleanup do you want to do at your campsite?
    • After a long day of hiking or paddling, will you want to assemble a complicated meal? Do you want to deal with cleaning up messy pots or pans filled with bacon grease?


      Shelf-stable pepperettes and cheese sticks.

  • What is your budget?
    • Can you afford to buy prepackaged dehydrated meals, or will you stick to basics like oatmeal, beans, pasta and rice dishes?
  • Are you able to dehydrate your own meals?
    • Not only can you control what goes into the food you eat, but you can lighten your load too!
  • Are there things you can’t bring into the backcountry?
    • For example, at Ontario Parks, you’re not allowed to bring cans or glass bottles.
  • Is there a fire ban?
    • If fires are prohibited due to a high forest fire risk, your menu will have to change radically!
  • What will you eat if your trip runs longer than expected?
    • Plan to bring an extra meal or two, just in case!

dsc05808Examples of the food you can easily find in a grocery store or bulk food store:

  • oatmeal
  • dehydrated eggs
  • dried fruit (e.g. raisins, cranberries)
  • dehydrated fruit (e.g. apples, mangoes)
  • nuts
  • shelf stable (unrefrigerated) pepperettes
  • hard cheese (lasts for days on the trail – wrap in cheesecloth or parchment)
  • tortillas
  • crackers
  • peanut butter and other nut or seed butters
  • granola bars
  • energy bars
  • pasta
  • rice side dishes (e.g. rice and beans, or rice and veggies)
  • instant mashed potatoes

Energy square (with a view)!

Look for a post soon on how to organize and pack the food for your backcountry trip, so that you aren’t rifling though a big bag or barrel of food each time you go to eat something, don’t take up any more room in your pack than you need to, and reduce the weight as much as possible.

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