Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race Long Course

What a relief to arrive on site race morning to find the waters of Georgian Bay calm for the 2022 edition of the Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race! At the same time, it was going to be a scorcher of a day, with a high of 29C feeling like 40C with the humidity.

I arrived just after race registration started at 5:30 AM, so I had plenty of time to get organized (apparently in the most inefficient way possible, as I covered more than 4,000 steps in doing so!).

The race would be a 16k paddle from Colpoys Bay at Bluewater Park in Wiarton, a 35k bike to a remote transition area on Kemble Road, a 15k run, a 21k bike back to Bluewater Park, and a 6k run to finish the race.

With the race stickers provided, I put my race number on my gear (kayak paddle, PFD, helmet, drop bag, bike).

In the transition zone I set my stuff up for biking and for the final run, but could not for the life of me find the electrolytes that I had packed. I remembered putting them somewhere clever…

I left a small backpack in a race vehicle for transport to the remote transition area, where I would need my running shoes, more food, sunscreen, and anti-chafing cream for the 2nd bike leg.

I also found my rental kayak, set the foot pedals to my liking, put a sticker on the boat, and then had just a few minutes before I needed to put my PFD on and get ready to race.

16k paddle

With just 10 minutes to go before the 7:30 AM start, I was surprised that no one was getting into their boats yet (most people paddled kayaks, but there were a few canoes, and apparently in the shorter race that happened later in the morning, a SUP!). Then I remembered that there would be a quick pre-race briefing before we got into the water.

I’m in the yellow shirt almost dead centre. [Official race photo]

Once on the water, another racer put my rudder down, and I paddled over to the start line. I’m used to paddling my whitewater kayaks, so attempting to turn this sea kayak with a rudder was interesting! I noticed right away that the boat wanted to go right (what is to the right? WHY?). We had a 2 minute warning, and then after a short countdown, the race began!

There was a little bit of chop at the start with all the boats feverishly trying to get going, but things settled down as the racers spread out. I settled into a pace that felt comfortable and that I thought I could maintain. I didn’t look at my watch for quite a while, because I didn’t want to be disappointed. There were several buoys along the route that we needed to navigate around, but we stayed pretty close to shore for the 8k out and then 8k back.

[Official race photo]

I knew I wasn’t pulling up the rear, but I also knew there weren’t too many boats behind me. Nevermind, I knew I could finish within the 2 1/2 hour time limit in these conditions.

Remember that weather forecast? My face was dripping with sweat on the way out, but once racers started coming the other way, we heard that it was cooler on the paddle back, and that we just needed to get to the turnaround to find the A/C! Turns out they were right – the headwind on the way back provided some relief!

I chatted with other racers a little as we went by one another, and we all marvelled at the crystal clear water! I didn’t catch sight of any shipwrecks, but I knew they were nearby. At times we had some bigger waves to deal with, but only very briefly after a motorboat passed by. It was near the turnaround when I started paddling with a racer named Patrick. We chatted the entire way – which really helped to pass the time – until the final few 100 metres when he took off!

I saw one boat flip at the turnaround, and as soon as the racer’s head popped up I let her know that a safety boat was right there (I also waved to it), and another racer assured her that she would be okay and that she should swim the boat to shore. Hopefully she was able to continue.

[Official race photo]

In the last couple of kilometres of the paddle my right hand started cramping and my lower back was getting a bit tight, but overall this segment of the race went very well! A volunteer helped me carry the boat to the grass where I left it for the rental company.

35k bike

I quickly used the portapotty, and forced down 1/4 of a bagel with peanut butter and jam while I reapplied sunscreen and got my socks, cycling shoes, and helmet on. I headed for the mount line, but even me, the seasoned triathlete, was about to mount my bike in the transition zone before a volunteer reminded me I had to walk it to the mount line – oops!

The majority of this bike leg was on rural roads with rolling hills, but there was also a section on an ATV trail. Early on in the bike route I reached a fork in the road – do I go left, or do I go right? I already couldn’t remember if I was supposed to be following ORANGE or PINK signs. Thankfully, I spotted small writing on the signs and on closer inspection, learned that I should be following ORANGE (we were told in the race briefing, but that was nearly 3 hours before).

I made the race extra challenging for myself by getting confused at the point where the bike course met the run course on the ATV trail. I saw a sign that said WRONG WAY – GO BACK and while I stopped and looked around with a puzzled look on my face no doubt, leaving the ATV trail for the Bruce Trail side trail (with pink flags on it) didn’t make sense. I knew there was no single track trail on this bike route, and yet… I turned off the ATV trail, and quickly discovered that this single track trail was beyond my riding abilities. No worries, I’ll walk it, I thought! So I walked, and walked, and whacked my shins on my pedals, and thought – again – this can’t be right. I figured the flags MUST be for the run – but where were the runners? So eventually (after way too long) I turned back and retraced my steps, picking the route back up on the ATV trail. I’m not sure how much time I lost, or how many people passed me as I went for a solo adventure in the woods.

Shortly after this error there was a steep downhill on a very rocky trail. I slowly picked my way down, but a couple of guys went flying past me! I was being careful because I couldn’t afford to fall and get hurt.

This is not a happy Xs and Os picture. The O shows the hidden RED bike track (where I should NOT have gone) under the more visible BLUE run track (from later in the course). Sigh.

The last 100 metres or so of the bike route was straight up a ridiculous rocky hill that was like the Martin Road hill in the Paris to Ancaster race – on steroids! I pushed my bike up it. Suffice it to say I was relieved when I reached the remote transition area on Kemble Road!

15k run

A helpful volunteer (they were all amazing!) showed me which rack to put my bike on, and pointed my backpack out to me. I pulled my running shoes out and there in one shoe was my packet of electrolytes! Not so helpful for the first bike leg! I filled my water bottle with cold water and added gatorade powder provided by the volunteers, and guzzled that while I got ready to run.

I was absolutely not looking forward to running in the heat and humidity. The first part of the run was on the Bruce Trail, a section I ran in June (in the opposite direction). As I ran (and walked) I thought, “I just did this, can’t that count?!” The trail was very technical in places, meaning that you really had to be careful of your footing. There were rocks and roots and holes to avoid. Some parts – in my opinion – were unrunnable, so I walked. In fact I walked more than I would have liked on this entire run. While we had shade in the woods, it was still hot, and when we got out onto the road part of the run, it was in the full sun. Did I mention it was hot?

Me with Dianne, who it turns out I corresponded with a couple of years ago about this race. We commiserated together as we walked under the beating sun.

And then, in a measure of cruel and unusual punishment, we had to climb back up that hill on steroids to the transition area. Another racer was struggling, so when I reached the top I found her relay partner to suggest she encourage her partner up the hill – so a group of people did. She wasn’t sure she would be able to do the final run.

After guzzling more gatorade and pouring water on my head, I got ready to bike once again. I was having trouble forcing myself to eat. Absolutely nothing appealed.

21k bike

Just before heading out I heard that there was a 3 PM cutoff to continue on the bike. I asked what time it was. “3:08” the guy said. Someone asked if that meant we were done, but he assured us we could continue if we got out of transition before the race sweeps. We also learned that the cutoff to be able to start the final run was 5 pm. I wasn’t sure I would make it – or even if I wanted to run again!

[Official race photo]

Once again, there was lots of road on this bike segment, but also some ATV trail. It reminded me of parts of the Paris to Ancaster course where there were mud pits and fallen trees and narrow channels to ride through. There was also a lot of wet rock that looked slippery and terrifying to me. After my crash in June 2021 I lost most of my confidence on the bike (now that I know the consequences of a simple fall). I did a lot of walking through this section, because as I was getting more tired, I felt like I would make poor decisions and crash. And then I fell. I fell on my left elbow and knee, but I was able to continue. At the base of a steep rocky hill I spotted another racer lying on his back on a big rock – he said he was taking a break, but that he was okay. I continued (Dianne had warned me about this hill, and I had walked it in June when I ran this section of the Bruce Trail). Eventually, I reached the road, and I knew it would be clear sailing from this point!

The 21k ride was actually a 22k ride, but I eventually reached Bluewater Park! I dismounted before the line, and said, “I quit!” While I beat the time cut-off to do the final run, I knew it would be a hot, humid, torturous death march (in other words, a 6k walk!) and I had no interest in doing that. I handed over my timing chip and didn’t regret my decision for a minute.

In 9 hours and 10 minutes of racing, I only managed to eat 1/4 of a bagel with peanut butter and jam, 1 banana, 1 granola bar, 2 graham wafers, 2 pretzels, and a few pieces of mango. I’m sure the heat and humidity were the cause of my disgust for every type of food I was carrying!

I packed up my stuff, and then enjoyed a veggie burger and fries from Dockside Willie’s (provided to athletes). I was happy to see that the relay racer who didn’t think she’d be able to do the final run was crossing the finish line! I went over to congratulate her and her teammate.

And then I made the long drive home.

I will be back!

Race stats:

  • Time: 9:10:14.5
  • 16k paddle: 2:24:04
  • T1: 5:38.4
  • 35k bike: 2:12:09.3
  • T2: 10:52
  • 15k run: 2:30:24
  • T3: 13:19
  • 22k bike: 1:33:46.8

Overall stats:

  • 41 athletes finished
  • 10 athletes did not finish (DNF) – including me
  • 4/6 solo women finished
Fantastic race swag for BPMR, including a buff, compression socks, and a trail running belt (bib holder).

This race is superbly well organized, and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a challenge!

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Thru-hike of the 80 km La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park (without sleeping)

“Which campsite are you staying at tonight?” a fellow backpacker asked us as we hiked along the trail. When told that we were going all the way to George Lake, he replied, “No seriously, which campsite?” “Seriously,” Rebecca replied. And then the next morning, more than 24 hours into our hike, a woman in a group of four backpackers asked us, “So what campsite did you come from?” “Well, we started hiking at 6:38 yesterday morning and we’re going all the way to the end without stopping.” They looked at us incredulously. We wished each other well and parted ways.

View from The Crack.

The idea of hiking the entire 80 km La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park without stopping to sleep came to me as I considered different ways to train for Wilderness Traverse, a 24-hour adventure race. I have friends who had done the hike in one go before, and knew that it would provide an opportunity to practice exercising for a long period of time, to work out nutrition strategies, and to see how our team dynamics fared. We chose early October for our hike, and set about planning what we would carry with us, including food. I also got tips from my equally crazy friends, which helped us to settle on a counter-clockwise route (easier ending). I knew what kind of terrain to expect because I had previously hiked the entire trail (in 8 days going clockwise). The Friends of Killarney Park’s La Cloche Silhouette Trail Guide is a great resource, as is the park’s Backcountry Hiking and Canoe Route Map.

While my friend and adventure racing teammate Rebecca and I would be hiking (we are team “Define Lost”), our friend and support crew Jen would stay at base camp at George Lake. I would be carrying my Garmin InReach (satellite communicator) to allow our friends and family to follow our progress, and to get help if needed.

The Hike

We decided to start hiking approximately one hour before sunrise. Our alarms went off at 5 AM, and after oatmeal for breakfast and final preparations, we grabbed the last few snacks from the cooler and at 6:38 AM with headlamps on, we started walking! It was Tuesday, October 5. The temperature was supposed to reach around 17 degrees Celsius, and fall to around 12 C feeling like 11 C overnight. There was no rain in the forecast, and it hadn’t rained since we arrived on the Sunday. We were fortunate to have dry, cool conditions! The trail can be treacherous when wet.

Go time!

Killarney Ridge Section

Right off the bat we had to climb a hill – of course! The La Cloche Silhouette Trail goes up and down and up and down and up some more! We opted to wear our trail running shoes and to use hiking poles – I can’t imagine doing the trail without them. We carried 40 litre packs with 3 litre water bladders, plus a 600 ml squishable water bottle each with a filter that we used to refill our bladders. We had intended to use water purifying droplets but didn’t use them in the end. See below for a full packing list.

Our goal was to eat approximately 150-200 calories every hour. I had packed all of my snacks into individual portions, some sweet, some salty, and some other things. See below for a spreadsheet showing all the food I brought, and for info on what I ate – and didn’t! After hiking for hours and hours, some things became less and less appealing. We were reasonably successful at eating on schedule – at least earlier in the hike!

We learned early in the hike that our friends and family were not able to see our progress on the map as intended, however the update messages I sent were automatically accompanied by our location, so Jen was able to follow along with her Killarney map. In addition, each time I sent a message I noted how far we had walked and where we were (e.g. campsite number). It wasn’t until I came home that I realized my error – I had set my account to only share map data after November 1 instead of October 1! Lesson learned.

Beautiful fall colours.

The last part of this first section of the trail is the climb up The Crack, probably the most technically challenging part of the trail, as you have to scramble up rocks, including big boulders with no easy steps. We encountered a few people in this area. By the time we reached the top, we had covered 9.5 km. Unfortunately we had to walk through cigarette smoke as we crested the top, but then we were rewarded with beautiful views.

The next time we checked the InReach to see how far we had gone, it was only 12.5 km, which was rather demoralizing. We realized then that our loose goal of 30 hours was likely unattainable. From that point on we checked the InReach infrequently, so as not to be disappointed too frequently (but enough to share our progress with friends and family).

Using the data from my InReach, you will see that I was able to piece together a comprehensive picture of our progress along the trail.

Killarney Ridge Section Summary:

  • 6:38 AM – Left George Lake campsite #53
  • 6:53 AM – Eastern terminus of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail/Started Killarney Ridge Section
  • 7:02 AM – Sign to H54 (A. Y. Jackson Lake)
  • 7:13 AM – H53 (Little Sheguiandah Lake)
  • 7:36 AM – Sunrise
  • 7:44 AM – H52/H51 (Wagon Road Lake)
  • 8:32 AM – H50 (Sealey Lake)
  • 9:32 AM – The Crack

Silver Peak Section

Along the trail we saw an incredible variety of fungi. I didn’t want to slow us down by continually stopping to take pictures, but I did take a few. There was one kind of mushroom in particular that looked as if it had been coated with shellac – it was so shiny!

We saw a few people as we approached the trail to Silver Peak, but we had already planned to skip this climb (and the gorgeous views).

We knew that before too long we would be hiking in the dark. Mentally, it was hard to see tents set up at H38 and to know that we had to keep walking. Oh how nice it would have been to curl up in a cozy sleeping bag!

Silver Peak Section Summary:

  • 10:52 AM – Started Silver Peak Section
  • 11:32 AM – Sign to H49 (Little Superior Lake)/H48 (Proulx Lake)
  • 1:18 PM – H47 (Heaven Lake)
  • 2:04 PM – Sign to H46/H45 (Bunnyrabbit Lake)
  • 3:55 PM – Sign to H38/H37 (Silver Lake)
  • 4:55 PM – Intersection with trail to Silver Peak

Hansen Township Section

As darkness approached and we prepared to climb and then walk up high along the ridge for a while, we made sure to stop for water at David Lake so that we didn’t run out without access to more. I don’t remember how many times we filled our bladders during the hike, but I do know that we used lakes and fast-flowing creeks to do so. Our water stops were slightly longer than our other stops. When we didn’t need water, we stopped for 10-15 minutes to go to the bathroom, get more food from our packs to put into the accessible pockets at our hips, look at the map, rest our backs, and ask – again – why we ever thought this was a good idea.

After we left David Lake, we walked in anticipation of climbing and coming upon a long section of exposed quartzite rock. This is clearly what I was remembering from my previous hike along this part of the trail. In the darkness, navigation became more challenging. Our goal for hiking overnight was to make as much forward progress as possible and to not get lost! We followed the blue trail markers (only a few were reflective) and the rock cairns. A few times, we lost the trail and had to backtrack, but never very far! At one point in the night the trail started to seem less like a trail, and then there was a tree right in front of me that I had to push through to continue. At this point, despite being tired from lack of sleep, we realized we must have missed a turn and retraced our steps. Sure enough, we went down at one point instead of up. What were we thinking – of course we should have CLIMBED again!

Rock cairn marking the trail.

We walked and walked and walked, and it seemed like we would never reach the quartzite ridge that I was expecting. We walked on quartzite, but then we went into the forest again, and then out onto the rock, and then into the forest – and repeat. It wasn’t as I remembered it. We kept walking. We didn’t check the map frequently in this section. At one point, we stopped for a quick break, looked at the map, and were overjoyed to discover that we had finished the Hansen Township Section! This called for high fives!! We were further along than we expected, and we got a massive mental boost!

At one point overnight I got cold during a rest break, so I dug out my blue puffy jacket, which did the trick! Otherwise I wore just a t-shirt and shorts for the entire hike, except for the very beginning when I had pant legs on as well.

Hansen Township Section Summary:

  • 4:55 PM – Started Hansen Township Section
  • 6:16 PM – David Lake water stop
  • 6:26 PM – Signs to H35 (Boundary Lake)/H34 (David Lake)
  • 6:56 PM – Sunset
  • 9:06 PM – Sign to H33 (Little Mountain Lake)
  • 10:16 PM – Sign to H32/H31 (Shigaug Lake)

Threenarrows Section

Sadly, the high from discovering that we were further along than expected didn’t last too long! It seemed we had been walking for quite some time, so long that I was sure we must have just missed the sign to H21. So when we eventually reached a campsite, we looked at the sign with trepidation… only to discover it said H21. So disheartening!

While I thought it might be scary to walk for 12 hours in the pitch dark, imagining all the creatures big and small that we might encounter, in fact I didn’t find it scary at all! And we saw some pretty cool creatures in the night. Low to the ground I kept seeing very small lights, which I knew weren’t fireflies. I wondered if they were just water droplets, and then I got close to one – it was a spider! Actually, it was the spider’s eyes that were reflecting the light from our headlamps! Once I knew what they were, I saw them everywhere!! One small plant had 3 spiders within a very small space. In the night we also saw 2 salamanders within a foot of each other right on the trail, as well as toads and a mouse. During the day, we saw (and heard!) countless ruffed grouse (one scared the heck out of me!), a pileated woodpecker, a bird that was likely an owl, a frog, lots of chipmunks and squirrels, nuthatches and a dragonfly. I also walked through many cobwebs! The only bear we saw was very close to the George Lake campground office the day before we started our hike!

At one of our overnight rest stops, we turned off our headlamps and looked up at the stars – wow! What a view! Not too much later, both of our headlamps gave warning flashes that the batteries were dying. We put new ones in and were back in business!

At one point, we had to descend a waterfall in the dark. The step down was too big for either of us to actually be able to take a step, so we had to bum scoot down. I thought my footing was solid, but my foot slipped on the wet rock, and I ended up on my butt in the water! Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for my shorts and underwear to dry!

It’s hard to describe what it was like to walk for 12 hours in the dark. It was long. It was tiring. I was counting down the hours until the sun would rise!

I was hoping that the sunrise would give us a big mental boost, but after the initial joy of seeing the sun coming up, it became overcast and there wasn’t much sun to celebrate!

Sunrise on the trail.

However, the sun was up and I was grateful! Our new goal was to finish before it set again (really!).

Threenarrows Section Summary:

  • 12:36 AM – Started Threenarrows Section
  • 12:43 AM – Sign to H23 (no lake)
  • 1:18 AM – Sign to H22 (unnamed lake)
  • 2:13 AM – Waterfall descent
  • 3:41 AM – Sign to H21 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 5:12 AM – Signs to H20 (unnamed Lake) and H59 (Bodina Lake)
  • 6:47 AM – Sign to H19 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 7:02 AM – Sign to H18 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 7:38 AM – Sunrise
  • 8:02 AM – Sign to H17 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 10:02 AM – H16 (Threenarrows Lake)/water stop
  • 11:06 AM – Sign to H8 (Threenarrows Lake)/start of long walk around the dam

Baie Fine Section

I mentioned the hills – the neverending hills – but I haven’t yet mentioned the mud! We each carried with us a 2nd pair of trail running shoes, with the intent that we would keep one pair dry. Before starting our hike, I envisioned changing into my spare pair for any necessary water crossings. However, within the first few km of the trail, our feet were already wet. There were so many creek crossings, and so many unavoidable puddles, that we never changed our shoes, and instead had wet feet the entire time. This, as you can imagine, is not ideal. But in case we got stuck on the trail for much longer than expected (e.g. if one of us got injured), I wanted to have dry shoes!

Rebecca tackling yet another creek crossing.

At some point, Rebecca started getting hot spots on her feet, which she treated with blister stuff. For me, the last 20 km were excruciating on my feet as I had developed blisters on the outsides of my baby toes. Downhills were the worst. I tried treating them (at which point Rebecca very briefly fell asleep while laying on her back with her backpack on!) but given that my feet were sweating and I continued to step in puddles and mud, nothing stuck!

Another thing that we both experienced during this hike was hearing and seeing things that weren’t there. So many times Rebecca or I would think we heard people talking. At one point (during the day, once we had hiked past the dam), I thought I saw someone in an orange jacket sitting along the shore in a chair. I looked again and only saw leaves. Just before we reached the Pig, I pointed out a backpack to Rebecca, which was sitting on the trail with no person in sight. But as we got closer, I realized it was a fallen tree. Other times I saw bear-like shapes (in bark, in trees). The mind sure does play tricks in times of sleep deprivation!

While the Baie Fine section of the trail was the flattest, it seemed to stretch forever!

A sinking bridge.

We kept thinking that we were getting close to George Lake and the bridge that marks the end of the trail (“Look! A clearing in the forest!”), but the trail just kept on going. And then finally, unbelievably, we saw the bridge! We stopped for a quick picture, then headed up the hill to the park road. Once we hit the road, wow! We had the strangest feeling in our feet. First, the road felt like it was moving, and second, the road was so incredibly hard on our feet!

We made our way to our campsite, where Jen was jumping up and down excitedly! It was so awesome to have a support crew waiting for us! She had cooked homemade macaroni and cheese for us, chopped up a whack load of vegetables, and offered to do anything we needed – get dry shoes and socks, get cold drinks, get clothes, anything! We plunked ourselves down in our chairs for a few minutes and had cold drinks. We removed our shoes, and hobbled to the comfort station for showers (me wearing Jen’s flip flops because I couldn’t tolerate shoes anymore on my blisters)! I even used a hair dryer (for the first time ever while camping), since I didn’t want to go to bed with wet hair. We sat at the roaring campfire for a few minutes telling Jen about our adventures before sleep called our names! Shoutout to Killarney Outfitters for having dry firewood! We bought lots after a disappointing campfire our first night in the park trying to get the wet park wood to burn!

Thank you Jen for being the best ever support crew, and Rebecca for always being up for an adventure, no matter how ridiculous.

DONE!

Baie Fine Section Summary:

  • 1:06 PM – Started Baie Fine Section
  • 1:16 PM – The Pig (steepest portage in the park)
  • 2:57 PM – Sign to H6 (Cave Lake)
  • 3:02 PM – Sign to H5 (Cave Lake)
  • 4:27 PM – Signs to H4/H3 (Acid Lake)
  • 4:57 PM – Sign to H2 (Lumsden Lake)
  • 5:17 PM – Sign to H1 (Lumsden Lake)
  • 6:15 PM – Western terminus of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail/Finished Baie Fine Section
  • 6:24 PM – Arrived at George Lake campsite (35 hours and 46 minutes after starting)

As my friend Heidi said, “You are so ready for this but don’t underestimate the challenge.” She was right! While the trail is physically demanding, the hardest part for sure was the mental battle. The further we got into our hike, the more frequent our short breaks became, and the harder it was to get going again (physically and mentally)!

I wouldn’t recommend a thru-hike as a way to see the sights and appreciate the beauty of the trail, but it definitely gave us experience exercising for a long period of time, and taught us what foods we do – and don’t! – want to face after hours and hours of exercise. We also got a chance to test out our team dynamics over a much longer period of time than our longest race to date so far – approximately 14 hours.

What an experience!!

Food

In planning our hike, we estimated that it would take us approximately 30 hours (a pace of 2.7 km/h). However, we wanted to bring extra food in case it took longer. Based on previous experiences racing, plus research we had done (including advice from friends who had done this before), we planned to eat 150-200 calories per hour. I brought 37 different snacks with me, a total of 41 servings. Near the beginning of the hike, I suggested that we play a game and try to remember the order in which we ate our snacks. I thought it might help keep us awake during the long night! But after eggs, bar, muffin, something, I stopped trying!

I ate the eggs first since they were not going to stay cold for long. My favourite snacks were the pickle, olives, moon cheese and dill chips! I also loved the lemon square. The further and further we got into our hike, the dryer and dryer I found some of the foods to be – for example, I had to wash down chickpeas, my PB&honey sandwich, and the Pro bar PB chocolate chip with water to be able to swallow them. And as we spent more and more time on the trail, sweet things appealed less and less to me. I could never face the chocolate bar, boiled sweet potatoes, Endurance Tap, and most of my homemade bars and energy balls.

While in the end I had too much food, I don’t regret bringing all of it. If one of us had been injured and we had been forced to stop on the trail, we would have needed it! I did learn, however, that I need more salty snacks and less sweet snacks.

At the suggestion of my friend Barb, Rebecca and I had each packed “mystery” snacks, to pull out when we deemed appropriate! Mine was so sweet that by the time we talked about it, neither of us wanted one! Rebecca had brought Goldschläger (Swiss cinnamon schnapps), which she thought could be helpful in the night if we were cold! We didn’t have that either.

Packing list

Note: I am not sponsored by any companies. I bought all of the items that I used.

Worn:

  • Gregory Zulu 40 litre backpack
  • Topo Athletic Mtn Racer Trail Running Shoes 6
  • T-shirt, pants with lots of pockets and detachable legs, underwear, bra, compression socks

Carried:

  • Tubbs hiking poles
  • Garmin InReach
  • Map in waterproof pouch
  • Compass
  • Bear spray (Rebecca also carried a horn)
  • Bear bell
  • 3 litre water bladder
  • Katadyn BeFree Microfilter with Hydrapak 0.6 litre flask
  • Water treatment tablets
  • Sun screen
  • First aid kit
  • Petzl Actik core headlamp
  • AAA batteries
  • Lightweight emergency bivy bag
  • Sunglasses
  • Cell phone
  • Flint and fire starter
  • Swiss army knife
  • Contact lenses and solution
  • Toilet paper
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Camera
  • Altra Lone Peak 5 trail running shoes
  • Running socks (2 pairs)
  • Hat – lightweight/squishy baseball
  • Hat – lightweight running
  • Hat – winter
  • Running gloves
  • Long john pants and long sleeve top
  • Blue puffy compressible jacket
  • Rain coat and pants
  • Food!

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Storm the Trent Trek Elite Race 2021

Lack of race specific training be damned, I was grateful to make it to the start line of my first multi-sport race with an orienteering component since 2019! With Covid-19 precautions in place, this year’s Storm the Trent races (Trek Elite, Trek and Hike) would be spread over 3 days, with each team arriving no sooner than 1 hour before their assigned start time, and with no post race award celebrations or hot meals.

Instead, there was a pre-recorded race briefing to watch at home, and race maps were provided days in advance, reducing time spent at race headquarters and the usual gathering of athletes pre-race to plan out routes.

With a start time of 7:40 AM, my teammate Rebecca and I arrived at 6:40 AM, unloaded my canoe and our paddles, PFDs, bailer and rope, picked up our maps (one main map plus two supplementary maps), had our temperatures checked by a nurse and answered Covid-19 screening questions again, dropped off our bikes, helmets, and bike shoes, and used the portapotties. I was a bit scattered, forgetting to drop my helmet off (leaving it on my head), then almost forgetting my gloves (for paddling and biking). The weather was overcast with a predicted high of 15C, so I was a little conflicted about what to wear. In the end I chose cycling shorts, long pants, and a t-shirt, which worked well. I carried extra clothes in my backpack along with food, water, and the rest of the mandatory gear. When I thought I would be paddling in my raincoat I tucked my compass in the pocket. Good thing I stuffed my coat into my backpack. We portaged our paddling stuff down to the water, me the canoe and Rebecca the paddles, PFDs, bailer and rope.

When it was almost go time, I realized I was wearing my backpack but not my PFD!

Foreshadowing course conditions?

Paddle to CP 20, 21, 22

Four teams were assigned each 10 minute starting time slot, but we weren’t the only ones running a little late. One hour wasn’t quite enough to do everything we needed to do. In any case, around 7:50 AM Rebecca punched the start clock with our SI card and we pushed off from shore.

Teams could visit the 3 checkpoints in any order, so we decided to go counter-clockwise. The checkpoints were floating signs, with words on them that we needed to memorize or write down. “See you at” “the finish line” “go get it” (or something like that!).

Save for a very short paddle in summer 2020 to test whether my hand injury was healed, I hadn’t been in a canoe since the summer of 2019. Rebecca was in a similar boat. Other than slightly overshooting the entrance to a narrow passage that we needed to take to another lake, the paddle went well. My hands cramped at times but otherwise I felt fine (my still-recovering rib injury from my MTB crash in June didn’t cause me any trouble). The 9k took us about 1 hour 25 minutes.

It was super fun to see so many familiar faces out on the water, people I hadn’t seen in ages because of Covid!

While the floating checkpoints were not manned by volunteers, the single digit checkpoints were. We had to check in with the (awesome!) volunteers at these ones so they could have a general idea of where each team was out on the course.

Bike to CP 2

After portaging the canoe 800m back to race headquarters (up a steep hill from the waterfront), we chowed down on homemade lemon squares (yum!) while getting into our bike shoes and putting our helmets on. I briefly joined a FaceTime call of another team yet to start (hi random stranger!), and then we headed out on our bikes. The rolling hills started quickly and didn’t let up all day! The ride to CP 2 was on a gravel road.

Run to CP 30, 31

At CP 2 we left our bikes and headed on foot in search of CP 30 and 31. Again we went in a counter-clockwise direction. These checkpoints were on trail and other than slightly overshooting “The Pass” trail, this section was pretty straightforward. Again, these checkpoints could be done in any order.

Bike to CP 3, CP 4, CP 5

Back at CP 2 we grabbed our bikes and headed to CP 3. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a great way to carry the map. In the past I had tucked the maps in a waterproof bag up the leg of my shorts, but I was wearing long pants. I used bungees to attach it to my handlebars, but it was a time consuming process and not very secure. I had to continually attach and detach the map bag from my bike as we switched between biking to trekking and back again. Next time I’ll use carabiners and rope and hang it around my neck. (I used a new map case too, and it leaked! Our maps got soaked and ripped when we had to flip them. Not sure if the case is poorly designed or I didn’t close it properly!)

Until this point, the bike course route was marked – we had to follow signs and not choose our own route. But at CP 3, this changed. We left the road and followed a trail that had some “big ups!” as one guy yelled coming back the other way. I wasn’t sure at that moment if he meant “big ups” as in “push hard” and you’ll get there… but it later became clear he simply meant that there were multiple big hills to climb! I think this is the first section where we had to get off our bikes and push them up a steep hill. Getting close to CP 4, someone told us this was the last uphill before the checkpoint. Of course that would have been true had we not overshot the right turn heading to the CP… instead, we ended up riding down a huge downhill, hitting a main paved road and realizing our mistake. This meant we had to climb back up the massive hill. Sigh. We found our missed turn and reached CP 4. Rebecca asked if we could go back through the field (rather than along the road) and the volunteer said that that’s what most people were doing. So, we followed the path made by other teams through bushes and over rocks and pushed our bikes uphill… not sure it was any easier than the road would have been! All that uphill from CP 3 to 4 meant we had lots of downhill back to CP 3 (poor course conditions removed about 15k of the bike course, sending us back to CP 3 and then to CP 5, skipping CPs 32 and 33). We were not for a second disappointed that part of the bike course was cut out!

The “ride” from CP 3 to CP 5 was crazy – so much mud! We did a lot of pushing our bikes through mud pits in this section.

Run to CP 40, 42, 43

Back at CP 5 we left our bikes and headed on foot to CP 40, 42, and 43. As we started out we heard someone say that it was bad… and got worse. Once again, we were following a trail, and when we planned out our route, we were optimistic. How hard could the navigation be? Once again, we chose a counter-clockwise direction. In hindsight, this was a mistake. We found CP 40 without difficulty, as well as the very scenic CP 42 (at a fast-flowing creek), and then CP 43 up a very steep hill (we decided to follow the trail rather than bushwhack). This is where things went haywire.

From a trail junction (we knew exactly where we were), I took a bearing with my compass, but it made no sense. There was an air bubble in it, so I figured the compass was toast. I asked Rebecca for hers, and took the bearing again. The direction made sense. We would head for The Outlook trail, and when we hit it, we would continue along it until we reached an intersection, at which point we would turn right and head along that trail back to CP 5. However, the trail we were looking for was running the same direction as we would be walking – see the problem? With even a small error in the bearing, we would miss the trail completely. However, we knew that even if we missed it, we would eventually reach the trail that would take us out. Rebecca was counting steps (to measure our distance), and I was following the bearing. We didn’t find the trail we were looking for, and Rebecca said “as long as we don’t find the lake”… and then we noticed a clearing… which turned out to be a marshy area that wasn’t so easy to cross. We skirted the outside (finding an area where large animals had bedded down in the process), and eventually got back into the woods. The map didn’t have a marsh on it (near where we thought we were), so we weren’t sure exactly where we were. We continued following the bearing, in the process seeing tons of cool mushrooms. We also heard a Barred Owl! I think I heard a Ruffed Grouse in this area too. And then finally, we hit the trail! We turned right, and after walking for longer than we expected to, Rebecca said that if we hit the intersection with The Outlook trail she was going to cry… and then we hit just that. Sigh. We had gone too far left, adding distance to our trek. We should have listened to a guy way earlier in the trek leg who tried to tell us to go the other way on that trail… it would have been much easier to bushwhack the other way.

Blue = original planned route (until we saw cliff at 40 on our counter-clockwise way around the loop and wondered if it might be impassible), green = new route, and red = what actually happened on our way from CP 43 to CP 5. Hello marsh!

By the time we reached the trail it was raining and the ground was super slick with mud. Rebecca and I both fell going down hills. How could I forget to mention the hills? At one point I heard 2 athletes coming towards us, one saying that the Race Director was “evil”. I couldn’t disagree! Shortly before reaching CP 5 a team came out of the woods onto the trail, and asked us if we were looking for CP 5. They too had had an interesting bushwhacking leg!

Still smiling after our off-trail adventures. Thanks Heather for the great pic!

Bike to CP 6 and 7

We jumped onto our bikes and headed for CPs 6 and 7, back on the gravel road and up and down the never ending hills.

Whee! A downhill!

A few times in this section we had to ride through water that had crested the road. At least once our feet were submerged in the “puddle” (AKA lake!) as we rode through it. Fun!

Photo courtesy of Storm Racing.

CP 7 Optional advanced section

At CP 7 there was an optional advanced trekking section. We opted out, figuring we were expert enough already with no need to test our skills (that, or we were beat and had had enough. Plus we might have missed the 5 pm cut-off to start this section anyway)!

Bike to CP 53

Instead, we checked in and out of CP 7 and headed for CP 53 and the finish line! After more road riding, we turned onto a mostly dry trail. We were looking for CP 53, which I assumed would be right off the trail (i.e. we couldn’t miss it). But riders coming towards us asked if we had found it. When we said no, they said that it was behind us – we had missed it, as had they. They had reached the finish line and turned around to find it. It was further off the trail than we expected, but once we spotted it, Rebecca put our SI stick into the card reader, and then we turned and headed for the finish!

Bike to finish

And just like that (9 hours 29 minutes and 10 seconds later), we were done!

Done!

We hosed off our muddy bikes, got changed, packed up our stuff, and headed home.

Our route!

Thank you Storm Racing for another fantastic race. Such a beautiful setting at the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve. See you next year!

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Raid the Hammer 2020

In a year when most races were cancelled due to COVID-19, it was exciting that Don’t Get Lost was still able to go ahead with Raid the Hammer.

This year’s race shirt.

The weather even cooperated with a forecasted temperature of 20 degrees Celsius – in November! This meant that teams were able to comfortably sit outside (some brought lawn chairs, others blankets!) to plan their routes. Normally, there would be an indoor venue, but not this year. Instead, we got the great outdoors and some portapotties.

At race registration masks were required, and only one teammate picked up race maps and handed over “declaration of health” forms for each teammate.

There was map 1, map 2, map 3, race instructions and a map bag for each teammate. The race instructions provided more details for each control (e.g. stream junction, ruin, ditch, tunnel entrance, vegetation boundary, fence end, thicket), and whether we were looking for a traditional orienteering flag, a ribbon, a feature (e.g. a sign) or a virtual control.

Heidi, Rebecca and I would be racing together for the first time. We sat on a blanket wearing masks and planned our race route, slightly overwhelmed at the sheer number of controls to find (44)! For each control, we talked about options for going from one to the next – e.g. follow a trail, or take a bearing and bushwhack. Heidi is our chief navigator (and fitness “machine”, as Rebecca put it)!

The race started at Bernie Arbour Memorial Stadium in East Hamilton, on top of the escarpment. But looking at the race maps, we knew we would be climbing down, and up, and down, and up some more before returning to the finish.

This race featured staggered start times to reduce the number of people at the start, and the number of people teams would meet at controls (it worked!). In addition, instead of hand touching a flag or ribbon at a control, we used a free app called Map Run F, which based on GPS location knew that we had found a control.

We were ready to start our race around 9 AM, so with our watches and phones ready to go, we headed for the start control.

Map 1: controls 1 to 6

This part of the course had us descend the escarpment, run through King’s Forest Golf Course, and climb the escarpment again, at one point searching for a control in an area of the map that the trails had been removed from (for the added challenge). I had my first fall of the race early on (those darn tripping hazards hidden under leaves!). In this section we encountered a group of mountain bikers, who we then saw again a couple more times later in the race – as they noted, we went the “direct route”!

Map 2: controls 6 to 14

Moving onto map 2 we felt like we were making progress! In this section of the race, we ran on the Bruce Trail for a while towards Felker’s Falls. We left control 7 at around the same time as a team of 3 guys, and while they were running faster, we arrived at control 8 sooner – it’s not all about speed! We made the better route decision (which they acknowledged!). We didn’t change our planned route much during the race, but we did follow a different vegetation boundary from 9 to 10 (the northern one) and cut some distance off that way. We were looking in the wrong thicket for 10 but didn’t waste too much time before we figured that out. Just before control 14 I wiped out again, falling hard! After control 14 it was time to move to map 3!

Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost – control 11.

Map 3: controls 14 to 25

We missed a small, leaf-covered trail to control 15, and once we saw how close we were getting to Albion Falls, we confirmed that we had indeed run too far. We had to backtrack a bit and climb up the escarpment, then down again. In fact the course planner suspected many people would make this exact error. Part of this map also involved a section called “run the line”, in which we had to follow the route outlined through a residential area to find controls that were not indicated on the map (“virtual controls”). Two involved sets of stairs (because, why not climb some more?!). We were getting close to being done with map 3 for good! We just had to find a couple of controls at Battlefield Park (including a monument at the top of – you guessed it – a set of stairs) and then a couple more along trails before we went back to map 2. My watch, which was running Map Run G – the app for Garmin watches that connects with the Map Run F phone app, went crazy when we passed control 14 again and then quickly reached 25. It started buzzing over and over again, registering that we kept finding 14 and 25. The app clearly thought I was running back and forth between the controls:

25, 25, 14, 14, 14, 25, 14, 25, 14, 25, 14, 25

Thankfully, as long as you visit the controls in the right order (13, 14, 15… 25…) it’s okay if you visit them again.

Map 2 (again): controls 25 to 37

We were relieved to be done with map 3, because it meant we were getting closer to the finish line! Control 27 was a manned checkpoint, where each team was checked off a list (it would help in the case of a team not being finished by the course cut-off time). In this section of the race, we had the option to travel through a tunnel, or climb up and over the road. We chose the tunnel route. Heidi slipped on wet concrete getting down to the tunnel (but did not fall), yelled, and the sound and echo in the tunnel was crazy!

Control 31.

Then after control 33, we had to climb a metal fence to get onto a sidewalk.

At control 35.

After a few more controls that we accessed via trails, we switched back to map 1 and left map 2 for good!

Map 1 (again): controls 37 to the 44 and the finish

After control 37, we were back at King’s Forest Golf Course. Part of this section involved a couple of controls in the section of the map that had the trails removed. Despite there being no trails on the map, we were partly able to use trails in real life to find the controls. From there we had to climb the escarpment again, do a little more compass work, and then from control 44, head to the finish line!

Another creek crossing.

It’s safe to say we were all relieved to be done! It was super fun, but exhausting. We covered 27.5 km in 5 hours and 9 minutes. The three of us worked well together, and our navigation was nearly spot on!

Another great race!

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Adventure racing: my perspective on training

Entering the world of orienteering and adventure racing from the sport of triathlon, I was very familiar with multi-sport racing and the need to practice all three disciplines (swim, bike, run) – sometimes in combination – leading up to race day. But adventure racing is a different beast, in particular once you throw navigation into the mix!

I’ve never been lost in a triathlon – though I have swum into the wrong bay during an Olympic-distance race in Gravenhurst!

I got my start in orienteering in the fall of 2016, adventure racing in 2017 and adventure racing with a navigation component in 2018, so I still consider myself a newbie! 

In advance of my first adventure race, the Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race, which involved a 4k paddle by canoe in Georgian Bay, a 16k mountain bike ride and a 6k trail run, my race partner and I went canoeing briefly once to try kayak paddles in a canoe for the first time (with a 2 year old who did not want to sit down or stay in the boat!), didn’t mountain bike because we didn’t own them, and didn’t run together once. However, we were both fit and confident that we could do the race. We ended up 2nd out of 8 teams of 2 females (and I won the mountain bike draw prize!).

Now, as I prepare for longer and more complex adventure races with my teammates, I have all kinds of ideas on how we can train together, and apart.

RockstAR with Rebecca. [Pic by Brad Jennings]

For example, recently I re-ran a Don’t Get Lost X-league orienteering course in the forest near my house, and instead of worrying about finding as many controls as I could within the 50 minute time limit for this particular map, I chose instead to focus on my navigation and find all the controls (“clear the course”), however long it took. To keep my navigation sharp (and to continue to improve!), I participate in the weekly X-league races, and look for every opportunity to challenge myself by racing as often as I can with Don’t Get Lost and other clubs. 

To work on training with my teammates, we have used old race maps and chosen our own features on the map to navigate to (for example, a hilltop, or a stream junction). Sometimes we just practice our compass bearings and don’t use trails at all. We’ve done this during daylight, in the dark in preparation for racing overnight, in the rain, and in the snow. We have practised using a provincial park map in the winter. Other maps could be used too, such as google maps, or local park or conservation area maps. It’s important to be mindful of park rules and the need to stay on trail in some places. More tips on how to orienteer when you don’t have a map can be found on the Orienteering Ontario “About Orienteering” page. 

While COVID-19 threw a wrench into our 2020 training and racing plans, my teammates and I will train together again with precautions when it’s safe to do so. We have plans to practice our mountain biking together (and do a race), canoe (and portage!) at night, and of course participate in orienteering races. We’ll also train together this winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. 

Cross-country skiing at Arrowhead with Heidi – that day we skied every single trail in the park!

I’ve been tackling increasingly longer races since that first one, from less than 3 hours to nearly 14! In addition to sport specific training, as the race distance and complexity increases, we need to continue to work on nutrition strategies to keep ourselves properly fuelled, and team dynamics to make sure we can lift each other up when the going gets tough, the bugs are nasty, we hurt all over, we get lost, or we start to lose hope! Bring on the races!

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Wilderness Traverse: adventure racing from a volunteer’s perspective

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a 24-hour adventure race, volunteer at race headquarters (HQ) all weekend and you’ll see the good, the bad, and the ugly, not to mention the hilarious, inspiring, and satisfying! I had the pleasure of doing just that at Wilderness Traverse in 2018, a race which saw teams of 3 or 4 cover 150k of terrain by trekking, biking, and canoeing. Some teams chose to swim on the trek section, and at least one racer in as little clothing as possible (he wore only the race bib – on the bottom!).

While I was at race HQ all weekend, I was able to follow along with the racers by “watching the dots” on the computer screen (each team had a GPS tracker), and by getting news from volunteers around the course (50 volunteers in total, and 48 teams racing), which included pictures of teams as they passed by.

Pre-race planning by an unknown team.

Along with a few other savvy ladies, we provided race assistance and play by play commentary and updates as the race progressed, keeping friends and loved ones at home (and in some cases around the race course) up to date on what was happening. It was exhausting but super fun. 

With Ashleigh and Barb.

It was fascinating to see the logistics of a race like this, which is described on the website as “one of the toughest team-based endurance challenges around and simply reaching the finish line is a massive achievement”. 

Race Director Bob Miller has a whole team of volunteers helping to make this race a reality.

I love volunteering at races (see my post on why you, too should volunteer), and I figured that spending time at Wilderness Traverse would be a great way to prepare for my own eventual attempt at racing it!

I decided to do it again in 2019, this time manning a remote checkpoint in the Haliburton Highlands Water Trails, which the teams would arrive at by foot.

My friend and future Wilderness Traverse teammate Heidi agreed to come with me. On the Friday night, we volunteered at race registration.

At race registration.

I took team photos, and Heidi gathered interesting tidbits from each team. We slept in our tent in a park across the road from the Dorset Recreation Centre (race HQ), and after breakfast on race morning, we watched the 8 AM start of the race.

Bumper boats at the race start!

Then we set out for our remote campsite (Checkpoint/CP 16) on Upper Crane Lake, with one little stop on the way to set out CP 15 (anyone remember CP 15?!).

Just one of the race maps.

We parked my van at an old logging road, took a compass bearing and headed south-east towards Three Brothers Lake. For some reason, it never occurred to me to pack trail running shoes for the weekend, so I bushwhacked in the only shoes I had with me – my sandals! It took us far longer than we expected it to, and we did it during broad daylight. Most teams would do this trekking section in the dark. We were hot, and despite having put bug repellent on, we were getting eaten alive!!

We eventually found the blue ribbon that Bob had said would mark the spot where the checkpoint should go… but it was on the ground, not attached to a tree! Luckily, it hadn’t blown away. We hung the flag and SI reader and then headed back to the van.

We drove to the Bentshoe Lake access point, carried the canoe and all our gear across the road, loaded up the boat, and set out! This was Heidi’s very first backcountry canoe trip. We had 4 big packs with us, way more than I would normally take on a canoe trip – but we were carrying lots and lots of treats for the racers! We counted this as our first Wilderness Traverse training session together – Heidi portaged a canoe for the first time!

Based on Bob’s estimates, we knew that the lead team wouldn’t reach our checkpoint until at least 10 PM, and that teams would continue to arrive until 8 AM! Of course, this meant that we too would be staying up all night! We decided not to bring a tent with us – we wouldn’t have time to sleep! We did bring our sleeping bags in case we got cold.

We paddled to the portage into Lower Crane Lake, and then after a short portage, paddled through that lake into Upper Crane Lake and to our campsite. We had our lunch, swam, and gathered tons of wood so that we could keep a fire going all night long.

At some point, another volunteer paddled by in his canoe. I can’t remember now where he was stationed during the race.

Wood and treats ready to go!

We had great cell service at our campsite, so we were able to use the race apps to follow the progress of all the teams, and to communicate with race HQ. We had dinner, and were treated to the most gorgeous sunset!

We decided to try to have a nap. We had set up our thermarests and sleeping bags and settled in! I set an alarm so that we weren’t asleep when the racers arrived! When my alarm went off (I hadn’t fallen asleep), I checked where the teams were, and re-set my alarm. At some point, I did fall asleep, because my alarm woke me up, and when I checked where the teams were, I thought, “Oh no!” I got up quickly and woke Heidi up. She had been out cold and started speaking to me in German (I don’t speak German!). I thought the first team would be there any minute, but it actually took quite a while. We lit our campfire, set out all the goodies (cookies, candies, and s’mores fixings!), and waited with baited breath! Well, we might have also eaten our fair share of the treats as a matter of quality control while we waited.

We heard many owls calling to one another while we waited for teams to arrive.

At one point, we freaked ourselves out when we saw a bright light through the woods in a direction that no team should be arriving at our checkpoint from. We wondered who was in the woods behind our campsite. We couldn’t hear anything. It was unnerving. Eventually, the light got bigger, and higher, and we realized it was… the moon!!!

Eventually (after midnight!), we heard voices and spotted headlamps coming down a hill across the lake from us. And then we made out French accents. As they got closer, we heard them discussing whether they were going to swim. They did. It was incredibly cool (and exciting!) to see them swimming across the lake, a distance of probably 25m or so. They made their way through the woods to us, inserted their SI stick into the SI reader, and took off! No idle chatter or food for them. We were a little disappointed but we understood. They were on a mission! The next team wouldn’t arrive for more than an hour.

Speaking of disappointment, when we learned that only the teams on the full course would reach our checkpoint, we wished that our checkpoint was earlier on in the race course. While there were 45 teams registered, we knew that the majority of teams would be pushed onto short courses (due to not making certain time cut-offs).

The next team arrived more than an hour later. And then, as the hours passed, the teams ate more and spent slightly more time at our checkpoint. It was really interesting to see their route choices. Some came to us from the south, and some from the north. Some chose to swim, but the majority didn’t. At least one team overshot our campsite, and then eventually returned.

We made sure that for each team’s approach, we had a good fire going, so that if they were wet and cold, they could warm up.

There were a few teams in particular that I hoped to see, because I knew people on them. Before the race started I had heard Kelly from Spinning out of Control say that she’d love a coffee on course. And then I found out that Heidi had packed a bit of instant coffee. When we discovered that Sunday was Kelly’s birthday (the race started on Saturday), I knew we had to have a coffee ready for her arrival! I had been watching their dot all day and night, with my friend John also on the team. And then we saw on the race Facebook page that they had been redirected to a short course (and wouldn’t reach our checkpoint after all). I was so disappointed! But then we saw their dot move… and it continued to come closer to us. And then, around 6 AM, they got close, and we could hear John’s laugh.

When they arrived at our site, not only did we get to wish Kelly a happy birthday, but we got to give her a mug of hot coffee! She was very appreciative.

The birthday girl and her cup of coffee.

After munching on some snacks, they headed out. We wished them well and hoped they would make it to the finish line (they did!).

The sun came up and teams were still arriving at CP 16. Over the course of the night we heard how much trouble some teams had finding CP 15, the one we set out (and the one they visited before coming to us). We weren’t surprised!

We had so much food that we encouraged teams to take some with them, more so as the last few teams came through. One was completely out of food, so they were very grateful.

We did make s’mores for some teams, and one racer even made one for himself. I hand fed another racer whose hands were too dirty (you’re welcome Chris L!).

In the end, I think we had 12 teams come through our checkpoint.

Planning how to get to CP 17.

When the last team left our campsite, we packed up our things, and waited until we were told by race HQ that we could leave. We set out for CP 15 to collect the flag and SI reader, this time by canoe. We had trouble finding the place we intended to leave the canoe, trouble finding the path we wanted, and after a while of seemingly getting nowhere (or getting nowhere fast!) , we wondered whether it would have been better to just park at the logging road and get to CP 15 the same way we had originally put it out. But it was too late by then. It seemed to take forever, with us having to add distance to avoid climbing and descending super steep hills. We made it there, eventually! And then we headed back to the canoe, paddled to the takeout, and loaded up the van.

We went back to race HQ, dropped off the flags and SI readers, had some post-race food, and drove home!

We had so much fun at CP 16.

In 2020, Heidi, Rebecca and I will be at the start line to take on Wilderness Traverse ourselves!

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Race report: Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race Long Course 2019

“Let the waters of Georgian Bay be calm.” In the months, days and weeks leading up to the Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race, my longest solo race to date, this was my biggest hope for race morning. I knew that if I could get through the 16k kayak, I should be able to complete the rest of the race (a 32k mountain bike ride, 8k trail run, 24k mountain bike ride, and then 16k trail run) within the 12 hour time limit. It wouldn’t be easy, but I thought it was doable (after doing some math with the time cut-offs), even though this would be my first time racing the long course (I did the short course in 2017 and 2018 in a team of 2 females). I might be chasing the time cut-offs, but I was hopeful that I could do it. This was my main goal for the day – finish within the 12 hour time limit.

The 2018 edition of the long course race saw many kayaks flipping in choppy waters. And while I did get kayak training in before the race, none of it involved big waves. Given that I used to whitewater kayak, big waves shouldn’t really scare me, but I wasn’t quite sure how well I’d do climbing back into a kayak in the middle of Georgian Bay!

Friday night race check-in and gear drop

Here I am front right with my bike checking in with 2 volunteers.

On the Friday night, I went through the check-in process at the Wiarton arena, picking up my race kit in the process (which included a race buff, a pair of compression socks, and race stickers to put on various stuff). I verified with volunteers that I had the mandatory gear, left my bike to be loaded onto a truck, and left the kayak I would be using (which belonged to the friend of a friend) and most paddling gear to be transported to the race start.

First time camping right on the Bruce Trail! See the white blazes on the tree. That’s Georgian Bay in the background.

Saturday – race day!

My race day 4 AM alarm was a rude awakening after a very short sleep in my tent. Loud non-racing neighbours at the Bluewater Park Campground in Wiarton (where the race would end) kept me awake, despite me wearing earplugs. Lesson learned. My 5 minute walk to the arena and busses didn’t make up for my lack of sleep!

Just before 5 AM – and before the sun was up – I boarded a school bus with my kayak paddle and lots of other racers!

Once at the race site, I was relieved to see that the water didn’t look too bad at all! No whitecaps! I was feeling better about the paddle segment already.

Sun rising on Georgian Bay.

I found a bush to pee in, and then got in a lineup for the sole portapotty when I learned there was one (it was still dark when we arrived and I didn’t see it). I was in the line when race organizers told us to start unloading the kayaks from the trailers. I didn’t leave the line! Later I found my kayak at the water’s edge, got everything organized, put my PFD on, and then listened to the pre-race briefing. We were told – in no uncertain terms – that we could face bears, snakes, and steep cliffs during the race, and that no one was making us do the race! We could skip the paddle and hop on our bikes when the first racers started biking. We could quit the race at any time.

16k kayak

When it was time to get into the kayaks, racer #41 helped me by holding the kayak while I got in, and then pushing me out into deeper water. Thank you again!

I’m on the far left.

I chatted with other racers while we waited for the race to start. Somehow I ended up waiting near the front of all the racers, which wasn’t where I wanted to be! I knew I wouldn’t be one of the faster paddlers. Thankfully, I managed to drop back a bit before the race began.

I’m on far left on the bottom.

On the count of “3, 2, 1, risk!” (no kidding), the race began, and I managed to avoid the bumper boats going on around me. Apparently one boat did flip, but I didn’t know that until I saw a picture after the race.

The kayak leg started with a 3k paddle to a volunteer standing on a dock where we had to call out our bib #. Next we paddled another 5k to the turnaround point.

Love this pic of me paddling as the sun was rising!

At times on the 1st half of the paddle I had trouble keeping the boat straight, having to continually paddle only on one side. When I made the turn at the half-way point (after around 1 hour 2 minutes), I thought, “Wow! It’s easier going this way.” But it didn’t take long to realize I was wrong. While the kayak tracked better on the way back, I was actually paddling into the wind. I was tiring and my butt fell asleep, so the 2nd half of the paddle was actually harder! I was also so thirsty, but didn’t want to stop paddling to take a sip from my water bottle. I did drink eventually. At times there were pretty big waves coming from multiple directions at once. I tried to straighten my legs and shift around, but nothing could fix my numb butt!

There were 10 or so kayaks behind me, including at least one tandem. I paddled back to the volunteer on the dock, and then with 3k to go, I headed for the take-out. This part seemed to take forever. I was so ready to be done the paddle. By this time, I also really had to pee!

After a total of around 2 hours and 25 minutes, I was done the paddle. The awesome volunteers held the boat while I got out, then took it away, making sure I had whatever I needed from it (I had to grab my mandatory gear, which included my first aid kit).

Getting gear out of the kayak while a volunteer holds it.

In transition I used the portapotty, ate, put my bike shoes and helmet on, put my paddling gear in “Bag A” (which would be transported to the finish line), grabbed food from Bag A and put it in my bike frame bag, and set out for my first ride of the day!

32k mountain bike leg

The bike started out okay, on a country road. But before long, we turned into a trail. From there the ride was a mix of road (paved and gravel) and trail, with the most technical riding I’ve ever done. There were rocks, roots, logs, mud, steep hills, and combinations of these things all at once. Not too far into the ride I realized I was carrying too much water in my camelbak (too heavy!), so I stopped and dumped some out. Much better. For most of this leg, I felt like I was riding alone. At times I could see someone ahead of me or behind me, which was reassuring when I wasn’t sure I was going the right way and I spotted another racer ahead (or someone followed me).

At one point, I noticed that the quick release on my rear tire was loose, so I tightened it. Later, on the last, steepest descent, which I was walking my bike down, I heard a noise, and noticed that my rear wheel wasn’t turning. I lifted the back of my bike up, and the wheel fell off!! Thankfully, it happened while I was walking my bike. I tried to get the wheel back into place but wasn’t having any luck. Thankfully, another racer appeared at the top of the hill, and very graciously stopped to help me (THANK YOU AGAIN!!!). Two others stopped and helped too, racer #57 and someone I knew, Anne. I was very lucky to have help.

After we all started moving again, the other woman (not Anne) said that she didn’t think we would meet the cut-off to be able to do the first run segment. I was surprised, because it felt like I had been doing really well. But the technical nature of the ride meant that it had taken me a while to do it – around 2 hours and 25 minutes!

I reached the transition area before the cut-off, but one of the race organizers told me that to maximize my chance of completing the entire course, he recommended that I shorten the first run from 8k to 4k (or to whatever I wanted). He said that the time cut-offs get more and more aggressive as the race goes on. I understood that the second ride was more technical, so I decided that it would be better to put any extra time I had into the ride rather than into an 8k run.

Before setting out on the run, I ate food from my Bag B, drank gatorade set up at a little table, and topped up the water bottle on my bike (which I added a Nuun tablet to).

4k trail run

So I set out to run 2k in and 2k out. It was on the Bruce Trail, which had ups and downs and twists and turns. I walked the steepest hills, and arrived back at the transition area well before the cut-off for the next mountain bike leg (the run took me around 46 minutes). I packed by Bag B into a van, so that it would be waiting for me at the next transition area.

24k mountain bike leg

I was a little concerned about this second bike leg, given that it was supposedly going to be even more technical! However, it didn’t turn out like that at all. Plus, I rode more aggressively and got off my bike less. I’m still not experienced (or confident!) enough on my mountain bike to know what it can handle, and what I can handle! But I tried to stay clipped in as much as I possibly could. On one of the trail sections that had lots of small rocks that I had to manoeuvre around, I made a tight turn and to my horror spotted a garter snake right in my path. Unfortunately, I rode right over it. “Oh, buddy!” I said. I hope he survived, but I couldn’t turn back to look or I’d crash my bike!

Somewhere near the end I was sure I had gone the wrong way. I hadn’t seen race markers for a while (the course was very well marked), though I didn’t want to turn around because I would have to go back up a steep hill… I wanted to be sure I was off course. Then I spotted 2 volunteers and was so relieved!! I have to say that the race volunteers, from those at race registration to those on the course were amazing!! Thank you everyone!!

In this bike leg, I passed 2 dogs off leash – thankfully they left me alone, but one racer wasn’t so lucky. I heard at the next transition that one of the dogs had bitten his tire! Once again, I arrived with lots of time to spare before the cut-off. I had some more food, applied more sunscreen, and set out for the finish line! This bike leg took me around 1 hour 50 minutes.

16k trail run leg

I was not familiar with the first 9k of this run segment, but had run the final 7k twice before as part of the short course race. I asked one of the organizers at the transition area what to expect, and he gave me a run-down. It turns out the 16k was a mix of Bruce Trail and side trail, road, farmer’s field, and circular stairs. Much of it runs along the edge of the escarpment overlooking Georgian Bay. There was a net downhill, but lots of little ups and downs. It was also in the last few km’s along the Bruce Trail that I encountered the most non-racers I saw all day.

My 16k “run” was a run/walk mix.

Unfortunately, for the last 30 minutes or more of the run, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to pee, despite stopping to pee several times! It was rather annoying.

It turns out my fastest km on this run segment was the last (it was on a paved road and then a path past my tent in Bluewater Park). My legs felt good – my cardio was the limiting factor. This run leg took me nearly 2 1/2 hours.

After 10 hours 20 minutes and 43.3 seconds, I crossed the finish line!

Done!

I was relieved to be done, and so happy with how my race went. I didn’t care that I ran 4k less than I was supposed to, and that officially I would be disqualified from the race. I felt that I had made the right decision in the moment, to shorten the run to make sure I wasn’t stopped later in the course and not permitted to continue. Maybe if I had run the 8k I would have made the cut-offs, but who knows?

It was a tough race, but I’ll be back. I’m looking forward to completing the full course.

Thanks Kelly for the pic!

After a veggie burger and chocolate milk, I watched the rest of the awards (they had started before I finished the race), and then headed over to the arena to get my gear, which had been transported from various points on the race course. I had initially planned to camp again that night, but given my horrible sleep pre-race, I decided to drive home where I knew I would be undisturbed.

Thank you Peninsula Adventure Sports Association for an awesome race!!

Race results

The winner finished in 6 hours and 32 minutes. The winning female finished in 8 hours and 5 minutes. Only 5 of 11 women finished the full course. See below for more stats!

  • # racers who started the race: 67
  • # racers who finished the race: 54
  • # racers who were disqualified (including me): 11
  • # racers who did not finish: 2
  • # women who started the race: 11
  • # women who finished the race: 5
  • # women who were disqualified (including me): 6

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Race report: SCAR Championship 2019

Race for 12-14 hours by canoe, mountain bike and on foot with a 4 AM in-the-dark race start? Why not?! I’m not sure how my race partner Rebecca and I learned about the South Coast Adventure Race (SCAR) in Amherstburg, Ontario, but when I heard that this year’s race was going to be a longer, 12-14 hour championship edition, I was even more intrigued. We are hoping to compete in the 24 hour Wilderness Traverse adventure race in 2020, and thought this would be a perfect step up to that race from the shorter (4 to 6+ hour) races that we’ve done so far. So, we registered!

Race weekend arrived, and we headed for Holiday Beach in Amherstburg where we would be camping the night before, and the night after, the race. We were the first to set up our campsite. We organized all of our race clothes, gear and food. Then while cooking our dinner, another female team of 2 arrived and set up camp next to us. They would feature heavily in our race!

Next we headed to Mettawas Parks in Kingsville, where we dropped off our mountain bikes and my canoe.

We picked up our race kits, posed for pre-race photos, and headed for the mandatory pre-race briefing at the Kingsville arena.

Sometimes adventure racing looks like this.

We soon learned that there were 6 race maps – one huge main map (no way we could carry that around with us as is!), and 5 additional maps. Before we left the arena, we had planned our route for the race, and set it out on each of the maps using highlighters. Some of the race course would be a mandatory route, and other parts we could decide for ourselves – starting in the dark was a factor in our planning, because it would still be dark when we reached the first trekking section (the race was to start on bicycles). We headed back to our campsite, where we set about trimming the huge map with the tiny scissors from our mandatory first aid kit. We thought it would be easier to fold the map to fit it into our map bag if it was as small as possible! Thankfully we noticed that we had cut the map scale off, so we wrote it onto the map.

With our alarms set for 2 AM (!), we headed straight for bed. Sadly, I had trouble falling asleep, and in the end had less than an hour of sleep before my alarm went off. We got dressed for the race, ate our breakfast in my van, and then headed for the Essex Region Conservation Area Demonstration Farm next to Holiday Beach, where we would board busses to take us to the start line. We left our kayak paddles and transition area gear bin too, which had paddling gear and extra food. We would visit the transition area 3 times during the early parts of the race.

Before the race could even start we had a little adventure. We were on the 3rd and last school bus, which was following the ones in front of it. When the first one made a wrong turn, all three busses ended up having to back up and turn a sharp corner backwards – in the dark. Rebecca and I were in the very back row, so had front row seats to the many point turn. Where exactly were the wheel wells, and would we fall into the ditch? Our new friends sitting in the row ahead of us yelled directions to the driver (who asked for help). Quite the start to the day! The bus eventually made the turn, and we made it to the race start, albeit slightly later than expected! The race actually started around 4:30 AM, not 4 as planned.

Note: all distances are approximate. CP 1/2, 3, 4/6, 5 and CP I were manned (with volunteers) and also had SI readers. The others simply had SI readers to insert our SI cards into.

Bike leg #1: start to CP 1 (8k)

The race began in the dark, so with flashing lights on the front and backs of our bikes, and headlamps on our heads, we set out on the Chrysler Canada Greenway, a gravel trail that was pretty flat, heading for transition area 1 where we would drop our bikes and start the first trekking leg. We didn’t need to do any navigation, because we just followed the riders in front of us. When Rebecca and I weren’t riding side by side, we would call back to each other to make sure we were still close. It wasn’t too long before we reached CP 1 at Camp Cedarwin, a Scout camp.

Run leg #1: CP A-H (14k)

We dropped our bikes, changed into our running shoes, and headed north through the Scout camp and back onto the Chrysler Canada Greenway. From here, teams could decide the order in which they collected the 8 mandatory checkpoints. We decided to go in a counter-clockwise route, heading first for the ones that we thought would be easier to find in the dark. We left the ones in the swampy area (where the navigation looked trickier) until later, when the sun would have risen!

We found CP H at the end of a laneway, then headed into the woods. We ran into friends on 2 different teams looking for CP F, and together, we found it. We followed the creek to the East to find CP G, then turned back and followed the same creek past CP F, through thorns that grabbed us, and all the way to CP E. It was somewhere in this section that I rolled my ankle, but thankfully I was able to continue! Also in this part of the race, the sun came up and we turned our headlamps off.

Following the creek towards the road, we caught up with a couple of other teams, and bushwhacked our way through together. At one point, I detached another racer’s sock from a fence. After a short road section, we were back into the woods, and facing the first real test of our navigation skills. Our plan was to avoid crossing the marshy areas as much as possible, because we thought these crossings would be slow and difficult. Our plan was to follow the creek as much as we could. We took a bearing and set off. It was at this point that we first noticed the “helmet guys”. They were doing the trek while still wearing their bicycle helmets, possibly because their headlamps were affixed to them. In any case, we worked with these 2 guys to find CP C and CP D, crossing the creek, bushwhacking and being stung by stinging nettles with them. Someone from another team whipped out vinegar, saying it took the sting away. We soldiered on. Just before reaching CP D, someone on another team said to me in an Australian accent, “You’ve got a mozzie on your forehead!” I had heard the the term mozzie before, but never had someone said that to me in real life.

After CP D the helmet guys headed a different way, so we continued alone to find CP A. I started doubting our plan when I wasn’t sure we’d be able to figure out exactly where we needed to cut down the hill toward the checkpoint. We debated backtracking and tackling it a different way, but in the end decided to continue. It was here that we then met the helmet guys again. With them we reached a creek that we needed to cross (about 6 feet wide?), but it wasn’t clear how deep it was. I went down the steep bank first, quickly discovering that it was much deeper than we thought. The water went up to my chest, but it was cool and refreshing! The others followed me across, one of the helmet guys falling in up to his neck. Once on the other side, it didn’t take long to find the checkpoint.

Rebecca and I headed back the same way, and heard another team saying that they wanted to stay dry. CP B was a quick, easy find, after which we made our way back to the transition area at the Scout camp. I think it was here that we found out we were now in 20th place overall. We had passed a couple of teams.

Paddle #1: CP I + CP 2 (9k)

We put on our lifejackets, had a snack, grabbed our paddles, knee pads, bailer/rope and walked a couple hundred metres to the canoe start (the race crew had moved the canoes from Mettawas Park to the Scout camp).

My canoe is the yellow one in front. [Official race photo]

With a small craft advisory in place for Lake Erie due to high wind and water levels, the paddle course was changed in the week leading up to the race. Instead of paddling on Lake Erie, we paddled from the Scout camp along Cedar Creek towards Lake Erie. There was quite a bit of wind on the way out to CP I, so much so that at times Rebecca and I both paddled only on the right side, with her doing wide sweeps at the bow to keep the canoe straight.

Rebecca in the bow.

We got to see some of our friends on the paddle, as they made their way back from CP I. Thankfully, the return paddle wasn’t as tough. Near the end, we encountered a couple of teams of very inexperienced paddlers. One team couldn’t keep the canoe straight, both of the paddlers switching their canoe paddles from the left side to the right and back again (randomly). We wondered how they would manage once they hit the wind. A racer on another team didn’t know how to hold the canoe paddle, so I told him to put one hand on top – he thanked me!

When we reached the end of the paddle, we were amazed that we didn’t even have to do anything with my canoe – volunteers took it away for us! We were pleasantly surprised to hear that we were 22/57 teams coming out of the water.

Paddle done.

Bike leg #2: CP 3 (23k) + CP J-K bike drop (21k)

We jumped back on our bikes and headed for CP 3, which we found easily by following the Chrysler Canada Greenway and then various roads. We were way ahead of the 2 PM cutoff (if you didn’t make it there in time, you were put onto a shorter course, skipping some sections of the full course). We were told by volunteers checking teams off a list that we were the 2nd female team of 2. What?! The 3rd place team arrived just after us.

But this is where things fell apart! We rode along an old abandoned rail line, which was very rocky but rideable, but when we left it, the roads didn’t make sense, and eventually, we had no idea where we were (not all roads on the race maps were labelled). We weren’t the only ones! It took a while, but we eventually found ourselves back on our planned route – phew. At the time, it felt like we added a lot of distance and time, but looking at the map after the race, it looks like we only added about 3k.

Run leg #2: CP J-K (3k)

We left our bikes at the bike drop, and headed off on our 2nd trek section. We ran along a path until we hit a culvert, took a bearing and headed into the woods for CP K. It was closer than we expected. We followed the creek to CP J, then I took another bearing and we headed back to the first trail we were running on. Our navigation was good in this section, and we were back on track. Phew!

Bike leg #3: CP 4 (11k) + CP L (11 1/2k) + CP 5 (3 1/2k)

We hopped back on our bikes and headed along roads to CP4, which we had to reach by the 2 PM cut-off (we were there with lots of time to spare). We had a quick chat with the volunteer here, a Masters student who gave up her whole day to be there for us. Thank you to all the amazing volunteers! Then we rode the Rotary Centennial Trail (around a huge cemetery) and then a paved trail along the Herb Gray Parkway. We ran into friends on this trail too, making their way from CP 5 to CP 6. They were flying! These were great paths to ride on. We opted to go for CP L on our way to CP 5 (you could do it after if you wanted to), so we left the trail and took a dirt path into the woods behind some houses and quickly found the control. We made our way onto the paved trail again, and arrived at CP 5 at Malden Park. Here we would have two completely different activities to complete: 1) a trek relay, and 2) a bike time trial.

Run leg #3 (relay): CP N (2k) + CP M (2k) + CP O (2k)

The relay legs had to be done one at a time. We decided that I would do two legs, so I set off along a paved trail for CP M. I passed the trail I had intended to take, not believing it was the right one (it was essentially a mowed grass path). But when I reached a paved trail, I knew I had gone too far. So I took that trail, and decided to get CP N instead. I ran back to Rebecca (the shorter way), and got to relax for a few minutes and eat while she ran to CP O. I even got to use a proper bathroom with flushing toilets and a sink.

Enjoying the short break!

When she returned, I headed out again, this time taking a shorter way to CP M. I met a man who was nowhere near where he thought he was, so I told him he could follow me back to CP 5 if he wanted to so that he could start again. He did. This was where we saw the lead female team of 2 head for CP 6.

Bike leg #4: time trial (5k) + CP6 (14k) + bike drop (13k)

I had never done a bike time trial before (essentially, a race against the clock with one team starting at a time), let alone one after we had already been racing for 10 hours!! Before we started I asked how long it took the fastest team so far, and found out it was 11 minutes. This was somewhat comforting, knowing that we wouldn’t be doing a 1 hour time trial! We followed the painted arrows on the ground, over gravel, dirt, grass, up and down hills, around tight corners, through long grass, and right past a deer and lots of bunnies. We weren’t exactly racing! I found this section fun (it was as close to “real” mountain biking as we got that day), but was relieved to be done it 17 minutes later.

We made our way to CP 6, which was also CP 4 (the one with the Masters student). She confirmed that we were still the 2nd place female team of 2.

Run leg #4: N/A

Given the time, it was looking unlikely that we would make it through the run leg and be able to bike to finish by the 6 PM cutoff. In fact, when we reached the bike drop for the last trek section, we were told that we should bike straight to the finish. I asked how long it was taking teams to do the trek, and the volunteer said on average about 30 minutes, and that many teams weren’t finding all of the controls.

I was disappointed not to be able to do the trek section, but relieved to know that we would be done sooner!

Bike leg #5: to finish line (15k)

We continued on our bikes, 15k that seemed to take forever. By this point, my back had gotten tight and my knee was complaining. Rebecca was having her own issues. A female team of 2 went whizzing by, and we thought, what the heck?! Where did they come from and how can they have so much energy? We talked to them later, when they told us it was their first (and probably last) race like this – that they had missed lots of checkpoints.

We finally reached Holiday Beach and made our way to the finish line. We finished in 13 hours and 46 minutes, just 14 minutes under the 14 hour time cut-off. We had paddled around 9k, run 21k and biked 125k!

It was definitely the hardest race I’ve ever done. Amazing though what one can do on less than an hour of sleep!

In the end, Rebecca and I ended up winning the team of 2 females category, because the team that was ahead of us was overtime. So even though they found all of the checkpoints (including the ones on the last trek that we didn’t do), we finished ahead of them. It feels a bit strange, but that’s apparently how adventure racing works.

SCAR was very well organized and the volunteers were great. There was lots of post-race food, and even vegetarian options.

Canoes and paddling gear/transition bins and bags were waiting for us at the race finish, having been transported there by race volunteers. I even got a race shuttle to where my van was parked. Rebecca and I had had visions of having to get back on our bikes and ride to get the van.

Thank you for a great race! We’ll be back.

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Race report: Storm the Trent Trek Elite 2019

After a great first experience doing Storm the Trent Trek in Haliburton in 2018, my race partner Rebecca and I decided to do Storm the Trent Trek Elite this year – i.e. the long version!

On race morning we dropped our bikes off at Glebe Park, my canoe off at Head Lake Park downtown Haliburton, and then we headed for A.J. LaRue Arena to check in.

We signed waivers, got our race maps and race instructions, grabbed a couple of chairs, and set about planning our route.

There were 19 checkpoints, which we would find by canoeing, running, biking, and then running again. Some of the checkpoints would have volunteers at them, and other would be un-manned. At all of them, we would have to check in with our SI stick. Some of the course would be a marked route or mandatory route, and for the rest of it we had to make our own route.

Canoe and paddle gear ready to go – as the sun rises.

After reading through the instructions and figuring out how the race would play out, we had time to chat with other racers, eat, and head upstairs for the pre-race briefing.

Race planning done.

Then it was time to walk a few blocks to Head Lake Park for the start of the race! We hit the water and waited with everyone else for a few minutes until the race began.

Just about go time!

We knew that we wouldn’t be the fastest boat out there, and that we would be able to follow the other canoes and kayaks – and that’s just what we did. About 15 minutes after the race started, it began to rain… and then pour! Thankfully, it wasn’t very windy so the paddling wasn’t difficult! We reached the floating checkpoint 1 (CP1) in about 35 minutes, with just a few boats arriving after us. In addition to using the SI stick, we had to yell our team number to volunteers on shore so they could check us off their list. Rebecca was the keeper of the SI stick for this race.

Then we headed back for Head Lake Park! We actually made it back in less time than it took us to get there – a negative split! Woot!

Canoe time: 1:08:53 (according to my watch) for 8k

Back out of the water I had to keep taking breaks carrying the canoe with Rebecca. I figured out later that my paddling gloves were the problem – I had no grip!

We left the canoe in the transition area, checked in at CP2, made a portapotty pitstop, and headed on foot to Glebe Park. Rebecca was very cold at the start of the run (we were soaked)! We ran 2-3k to the park, checked in at CP3, and then headed into the woods to look for CP22, 23, 24, and 25. For this section, we had to switch maps from the main race map to Supplemental Map #1. This section is where things went haywire! Right away we got confused with the trails we saw in front of us and the trails on the map – we couldn’t match them up. We were looking for a snowmobile trail, which we thought would be wider and obvious, but it most definitely wasn’t! We actually scrapped our plan to find CP23, 24, and 25 first on a looped trail, and instead followed people to what we eventually figured out would be CP22 – we knew there must be something there if they were going that way! It was once we reached CP22 that we knew for sure where we were.

Unfortunately, this didn’t really help! We bushwhacked through the forest and across 2 trails, thinking we knew where we were. But things still didn’t make sense to us, and we eventually ended up pretty much back at our starting place at Glebe Park. We headed out – again – and finally got ourselves onto the loop where we would find CP23, 24, and 25. It was incredibly muddy on parts of the trek section.

Once we found these 3 checkpoints, we headed back for Glebe Park, thinking we were retracing our route. But we encountered a rope across the trail and knew right away that we hadn’t been there before. However, we weren’t alone, running into another team doing the same race as us, and a couple of guys doing the shorter Trek race solo.

Intended route in orange highlighting. Note the big red OUT OF BOUNDS areas…
Now note our path straight through the OUT OF BOUNDS area (the upside down U-shape in the middle of the picture).

Turns out our route back was more efficient. Comparing our actual route versus the course map and our highlighted intended route, I can totally see now that we went straight through the red rectangular PRIVATE PROPERTY out of bounds section. Yikes. That was not our intent. Clearly, we were confused!! And analyzing our route now, I can see that our return route was on the snowmobile trail that we were so desperately seeking at the beginning of the trek! We ran much further than we needed to.

Run time: 2:23:44 for 13.6k

We checked back in at CP3, and then headed for our bikes. We ate while getting ourselves organized, putting our bike shoes, gloves and helmets on, and strapping our trail shoes to our camelbaks.

Then we headed out for the first part of the bike course, an out and back in search of CP30, 31, and 4. Just after CP30 we encountered the first flooded dirt road, but this year, we decided to ride straight through it. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time. I couldn’t see beneath the water’s surface, so I was taken down by a rock that knocked me off balance.

Not too much further along, an even deeper section of flooded road awaited us! Picture a fairly narrow, gravel, pot-holed, small and big rock-strewn road with a couple of feet of water on it. Now imagine trying to ride your bike through it. The trick for me was to ride as steadily as I could in my granny gear and not slow down. But it was a bumpy, unpredictable ride and once again, I fell over! Another racer caught up to Rebecca and I shortly after this section and asked, “Which of you swam?” Me, me, that was all me. I may also have yelped. On the bright side, the water cleaned my bike.

We continued on to a hydrocut, which we had to ride along (or push our bikes along due to mud), up, down, and up again. We headed back to the main trail and rode it a short distance to CP4.

Riding into checkpoint 4. [Official race photo]
Checking into checkpoint 4. [Official race photo]

We rode back to Glebe Park, through the “lakes” (I stayed upright! It was easier to see under the water on the way back – at least somewhat!), and back to CP3.

Then we hit the road section of the bike course, which had no shortage of hills! It was in this section that we started to pick off other teams (we are road riders after all!).

Eventually, we reached the ATV trail where we would find CP50. This is where we slowed to a snail’s pace, as the incredible amount of mud forced us to walk and push our bikes through it. At one point, I sunk into the mud half-way up my calf! We pushed our bikes for kilometres! The crazy mud sections were separated by some rideable trail and later gravel road sections.

We reached CP5, where a volunteer assured us that we had seen the worst of the mud, and that the road would be way better. Sadly, she was wrong. I started looking at my watch and realizing for the first time that we may not reach CP6 in time to meet the cut-off to be allowed to do the final trek section at Sir Sam’s Ski Resort.

Riding along a gravel road, it seemed to be taking forever to reach CP32. At two separate points I got cold on the bike – it was pouring rain, and on the (very few!) big downhills, the breeze chilled me to the bone! Eventually, we reached the intersection where I thought the checkpoint would be, but there was a woman off her bike who had apparently “almost crashed” (she had no brakes left), and when I mentioned the checkpoint she and her partner said it wasn’t at that intersection. We continued on our bikes, but we should not have listened to them! Again, it seemed to be taking forever to find the checkpoint. Eventually, we reached an intersection marked on the map (Bushwolf and Angel) and it was at that point I realized that we had missed it. It was at the earlier intersection!

We continued on in search of CP33, which would be somewhere along a MTB trail at Sir Sam’s, but we would have to ride the trail to find it. We ended up “riding” it with 2 girls in the shorter Trek course… if you can call it riding. Once again, it was incredibly muddy. Had it been dry, it would have been very fun to ride – it was twisty, turny, and full of little ups and down. Instead, we could ride for a few pedal strokes and then we had to walk again! We found the checkpoint, and then headed for CP6, reaching it about 15 minutes over the cut-off, so we were directed to run to the finish line rather than do the last trek section. Had we done the trek, we would have drawn the location of CP40, 41, 42 and 43 on our Supplemental Map #2 (from a master map at CP6), then climbed and descended the ski hill to find them.

I was disappointed not to make the cut-off, but relieved at the same time to be done!

Bike time: 4:29:52 for 44.2k

Done!

In the end, we crossed the finish line in 8:15:24, in 2nd place out of 2 teams of 2 females. The other team found all the checkpoints and finished in 8:37.

I had a great time – despite the mud – and look forward to taking on the race again!!

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Race report: Raid the Hammer Half Raid 2018

In the days leading up to this race, I had no idea I’d be criss-crossing a half-pipe multiple times with a chilly creek crossing in the middle! But how would I? The race location is top secret until race day (though I did try my best to piece together the picture teasers as they were posted on Facebook). A last minute change meant that our team of 3 became a team of 2 for this year’s Don’t Get Lost Raid the Hammer Adventure Race. This would be our 3rd time doing the race, and on home soil to boot! At registration we were each given 2 maps and a sheet of race instructions, which set out everything we needed to know about the race. We would pick up a 3rd map out on the race course. This was a point to point race with 3 distinct sections:
  1. a matrix, where team members could split up to find the 6 checkpoints faster, which could be found in any order;
  2. 12 mandatory checkpoints found in order from 1 to 12; and
  3. a matrix, where team members could again split up to find the 4 checkpoints, and in any order.
As this race was held on Remembrance Day, we had a moment of silence before boarding busses to the start line. From the Veterans Affairs Canada website:

Every year on November 11, Canadians pause in a silent moment of remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace. We honour those who fought for Canada in the First World War (1914-1918), the Second World War (1939-1945), and the Korean War (1950-1953), as well as those who have served since then. More than 2.3 million Canadians have served our country in this way, and more than 118,000 have died. They gave their lives and their futures so that we may live in peace.

The race began at Hidden Valley Park in Burlington, a small park with a couple of playgrounds and some trails in the woods. Earlier this fall, I saw salmon swimming upstream in the creek that runs through the park.
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Pre-race.
On Patrick’s countdown, the race began! Rebecca and I had decided to split up in the matrix, with her doing a little more running for 3 checkpoints that we thought would be easier to find (D, E, F). It turns out they were all pretty easy, partly because we were never the only ones searching for them, but also because the park is so small and the navigation just wasn’t too difficult. IMG_7536 I found my 3, then ran to a pavilion to wait for Rebecca so we could show our punched maps to Patrick, proving that we had been to each checkpoint. We punched checkpoint 1 (at the pavilion), then headed for the road that would take us onto the second map. This next part of the race course required us to cross Grindstone Creek in between each checkpoint. Between checkpoints 1 and 2 we used a bridge, but after that, we bit the bullet and got wet feet. And boy was the water ever cold!!! We learned that indecision after a creek crossing was a bad thing – that’s when our feet froze. As long as we kept moving, they warmed up pretty quickly!
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The thick blue line is the creek, and the thin brown lines are contour lines showing elevation gain. The closer they are together, the steeper the terrain. The thick pink lines show the shortest distance between 2 checkpoints.
Also in this section were hills, hills and more hills! From a checkpoint high on a hill, we would descend, cross the creek, then climb a hill on the other side.
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One of many icy cold creek crossings.
At checkpoint 6 there was an aid station with sweet and salty goodies, and a gear check, where we had to show that we were carrying an emergency blanket.
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Along Grindstone Creek – heading for the aid station/gear check.
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Descending once again, heading for checkpoint 7.
After checkpoint 9 there were no more creek crossings. At checkpoint 10, which was just before we crossed the railroad tracks and entered Black’s Forest (the trails south of Walmart and Grindstone Way in Waterdown), we received the 3rd map, which we needed to get back to the high school.
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The only checkpoint we arrived at with no one else around.
There are tons of trails in this area, but they don’t necessarily go the way you want to go. We did a lot of trail hopping to get from 10 to 11, 11 to 12, and then 12 to 13. After this point, we could split up again and find the 4 remaining checkpoints. I know this part of Waterdown very well, so I only needed to look once on the map to see where the checkpoints were, then didn’t need to look again (I knew the spots). These checkpoints had questions that we had to answer, rather than inserting our SI card into a chip reader. For example, one asked for the last name of Charlotte, whose name was on a park bench. When I reached my 2nd and last control in this section, I encountered another woman at the same hydro pole trying to answer the same question. “Final digit on the power pole (5485)” shouldn’t be that hard. But it was a multiple choice question, and the number we saw on the pole wasn’t an option on the sheet. We figured it was a typo, and headed back to the high school. Sadly, we later found out that we were looking at the wrong pole! We had been looking at 54856, when we should have been looking at the pole across the street, 54855! This meant a 15 minute time penalty for our team. Rebecca had no trouble with her checkpoints, and was waiting for me at the high school. We punched the finish line checkpoint, and headed inside to download our results onto the Don’t Get Lost computer. In 3:31:53 we covered a little over 17k, and found all of the checkpoints.
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Post-race: I’m trying to show the burrs and twig in my hair.
We enjoyed a hot lunch from a food truck, included in our race entry fee. Despite my mess up on the last checkpoint, we had a great race! My legs were slightly tired from my 25k race the day before (!) but held up better than I expected! We’ll be back – next year, the full Raid! Race results for team Define Lost:
  • Time: 3:31:53 (25:45 behind race winners)
  • Placing: 4/6 teams of 2 females
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