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 eating 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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Race Report: Don’t Get Lost Eliminator Adventure Run

Minutes before the Don’t Get Lost Eliminator Adventure Run was to begin, I received a dire warning from another racer: the trails are very tricky to navigate, and “I’ve been in tears before!” Yikes! I wasn’t surprised about the trails though – somehow, I expected that!

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The race took place at this ranch in Milton.

My friends weren’t able to join me at this race (something about work, and little people, and the Chilly 1/2 marathon!), so I was tackling it myself. I arrived at Rocky Ridge Ranch just before the 9 AM start of registration, so I had plenty of time before the 10:30 race start to get organized and make a plan. I chatted with other racers, and once again asked Steve H. to take a few pictures of me. Thanks Steve!

For this race, there were 30 controls, which could be done in any order. The goal was to find as many as possible within the 2 hour time limit (going over the limit meant losing a certain number of points per minute). I decided to focus on the easy (25 points) and intermediate (50 points) controls, and to avoid the difficult (75 points), expert (100 points), and backcountry (150 points) controls. The easy ones were all on trails or at trail junctions, while the intermediate ones required some off trail navigation.

I worked out a clockwise route, and wrote down compass bearings for each control along my route. There were 18 of them. I also wrote down the approximate distance between controls (in centimetres). If you take a look at the map below, you can see the trails running all over the place. For this map, the scale was 1:7,500, so 1 cm on the map represented 75 m.

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Note the compass bearings taken pre-race. In a nice neat list. So handy… not.

During the pre-race briefing, we were told that if we were new to orienteering or not confident about our navigational abilities, we should NOT venture below a certain point on the map. I had already planned to avoid this lower section. We were also told that the trails are not always easy to find.

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Mapping out my route pre-race. 

After the briefing, it was time to head for the start line. At -9 degrees Celsius, it was a bit cold waiting for the race to begin, but the sun was out so it wasn’t too bad. The race started, and we all headed for control #2, the closest one.

Given the crowd, it was easy to find! From there, I forgot to re-set my compass bearing, and just followed a few people, thinking we were going the right way. And then we reached a control marked #33, which confused me for a couple of reasons: 1) I was expecting #1, and 2) there was no #33 on the map! It turns out we’d gone counterclockwise, and found #3 not the #1 control I wanted! At that moment I needed to decide whether I should run back to #2 to get onto my clockwise plan, or whether I would just run my planned route backwards – this would mean no backtracking, but I’d have to work out compass bearings as I went along, losing some time. I decided to be reckless and change my route!

It didn’t take long for me to realize how difficult it was to navigate on the trails. It was really hard matching actual trails to what I saw in front of me. Sometimes, I used ribbons in the trees to determine that a trail must run that way!

It took me more than 10 minutes to find #4, and when I did, the other racers there thought it was #5, but I was sure it was #4. Unfortunately, controls 1-9 weren’t marked 1-9, but instead 31, 32, 33… 39, which took some of us a while to figure out! Next I went for #10, but somehow ended up at #6 while looking for it. I was not off to a great start!! It was a bit discouraging! I decided to scrap #10 and just continue to #13. Next up were #14 and #7, which were close together and not hard to find. I ended up looking for the next one, #16, with 2 women named Patty and Cathy (I think!). We tried to make sense of the map and a fence, and eventually found the control!

Another woman, Kim, asked me if I wanted to find #18 with her, and I readily agreed. Somehow we completely overshot the control, which we figured out as soon as we hit a road! Clearly we had missed the “boulder group” where the control was supposed to be (there were boulders all over the place, so this clue wasn’t so helpful)! We decided to run further away from the control along the road, stopping when it intersected a trail, because at that point we’d know exactly where we were! We reset our bearing, and then successfully found the control. At that point, Kim decided to head toward the finish, because her recent bout with bronchitis was making things difficult for her. From that point, I set my bearing for #17, and thought it would be easy to find! Ha! Instead, I ended up looking for the control with 2 people looking for a different one, and the best part is that we actually found a 3rd one (not the one any of us were looking for) – #8! I decided to forget about control 17, because I didn’t want to waste more time on it.

After that, things got pretty easy! I quickly found #12 then #15, and re-joined Patty and Cathy to find #9. Once again, I realized how much closer things were than I expected them to be, so we decided that we had time to do #11 and #5 before heading for #1 and then the finish line. We still had 25 minutes to spare. After finding #11 and #5, which were really close together, and which we found by following trails (not compass bearings), we went along trails again to find #9. From there it was a short run to #1, and then I was on my way to the finish line!

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Approaching the finish. Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost.

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Heading for the finish line. Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost.

Race Results

Points: 575

Placing: 8/10 open women age group

Placing overall, not counting teams of cadets: Tied for 29th out of 42 people

Time: 1:51

Controls found: (far right column = elapsed time since race start)

32 (#2 on the map), 25p, 1:44 (1:44)

33 (#3 on the map), 25p, 4:21 (6:05)

34 (#4 on the map), 25p, 10:52 (16:57)

36 (#6 on the map), 25p, 4:57 (21:54)

44 (#13 on the map), 50p, 2:26 (24:20)

37 (#7 on the map), 25p, 3:49 (28:09)

45 (#14 on the map), 50p, 3:21 (31:30)

47 (#16 on the map), 50p, 16:56 (48:26)

49 (#18 on the map), 50p, 18:33 (1:06:59)

38 (#8 on the map), 25p, 12:34 (1:19:33)

43 (#12 on the map), 50p, 4:41 (1:24:14)

46 (#15 on the map), 50p, 2:27 (1:26:41)

39 (#9 on the map), 25p, 7:47 (1:34:28)

42 (#11 on the map), 50p, 5:13 (1:39:41)

35 (#5 on the map), 25p, 1:34 (1:41:15)

31 (#1 on the map), 25p, 5:39 (1:46:54)

I’m pretty pleased that I found 16 of the 18 controls I planned for pre-race. One I didn’t even look for (#10), and one I couldn’t find (#17). I’m getting better, though I still have lots to learn! Biggest lesson from this race: don’t be a lemming.

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Race report: Don’t Get Lost X-League Orienteering Race – Breithaupt Park

This week I headed to Breithaupt Park in Kitchener, Ontario for my 2nd ever orienteering race, a weeknight race that is part of the Don’t Get Lost X-League Series (very low key, $5/race). Looking at the list of people who had confirmed their attendance, I could see that it would be a smaller group than my first race a couple of weeks ago.

It was a 20 degree Celsius sunny November day (yes, November!), with the evening temperature a bit cooler but perfect.

I arrived at the park with my required compass, watch, headlamp and whistle, and this time, chose to carry a water bottle, because last time I got pretty thirsty and wished I’d had it with me.

Since I got there early, I had a few minutes to explore the park’s trails before things got going.

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Checking out the trails before the race…as happens when the women’s washroom is closed.

Just before 7 PM, there was a short pre-race briefing, during which we learned that we would have to find the 4 “easy” controls first, come back to the race start/finish, check in quickly with Meghan, then head out to find as many of the others as we could. This park is quite a bit smaller than Kerncliff Park, so Meghan felt that I would have more success than my first time out, when I found just 2 controls.

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Race map pre-race.

I had had time to study the map, so I planned to find #2 then #4 then #3 then #1, and if I still had time left, go for #6 (at the intersection of two trails).

And just like that, the race began! I started running in the same direction as several others, but cut into the parking lot with another woman. We quickly realized that there was a small fence around it and we were trapped! What a start!

We backtracked and headed for the trail again, which wasn’t hard to find despite it being pitch dark, because 1) we were wearing headlamps and 2) it was a wide gravel path. I did not need my compass for the first two controls, only the map, because I just needed to follows the paths. The next one was not far from my pre-race path exploration, so it too was easy to find. And then I headed for #1, which should have been easy, but I overshot it, somehow running right past it without seeing it, then taking a path I shouldn’t have, and finally running way further than I need to. I’m still learning to judge the distance on the map, though this time I remembered to look at the map scale (1:5000, so 1 cm = 50 metres). I went forward and back, thinking that I knew where I was on the map, then realizing I couldn’t be where I thought I was. The fact that no one was around me (no headlamps in the dark!) convinced me that I wasn’t where I should have been. One spot looked like a path to a cul-de-sac outside the park, but when I ran down it to confirm, it was a street not a cul-de-sac. I looked at my watch and realized that I had spent at least 10 minutes trying to find this control! It wasn’t until two kids came along and I asked if I was close to #1 that I found out how close it was to the start/finish point! I found it, then headed back to the finish. I wouldn’t have time to look for any other controls.

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Proof that I found controls 1-4 (hole punches dangle from the controls, which you use to prove that you were there).

 

Despite taking far too long on #1, I did manage to find 4 controls in 28:44, which is double the number of controls I found my first race. I also earned 3.3 times as many points, since I earned 25 for each control, and didn’t go over the allotted 30 minutes, so I didn’t have any time penalties. My final score was 100 points. You can see the results here.

Each time I go out I learn a little bit more – it’s great. This week I also got to try out my new headlamp, the Black Diamond Storm. So far, so good! I look forward to my next race, Raid the Hammer 1/2 in just over a week!

My foray into orienteering and adventure racing

It didn’t take much to convince me to try orienteering and adventure racing: I was inspired by the enthusiasm of friends Kristi and Michael who recently spent the weekend at my house. They and their two boys Evan and Lukas are members of Orienteering Ottawa and have competed in both Canada and the US. They (and Kristi through her blog!) made it sound really fun, so after they left, I registered for the “Navigation 101” 4 hour clinic through Don’t Get Lost, an orienteering club in the Hamilton/Niagara area. Several years ago my kids participated in the Don’t Get Lost 12-week Adventure Running Kids program, which I highly recommend! Here’s the Navigation 101 course description:

Learn the basics of map and compass skills in the first 2 hours of this clinic. Learn to read and understand maps, map legends and scales.  Basic compass skills will be introduced, for map orientation and introductory bearings. Preparatory route selection and relocation techniques will be covered. The second half of the clinic introduces concepts and strategies for improving your basic navigation skills. Learn about handrails, catching features and attack points. Practice “aiming-off”, “attacking from above” and “contouring.” Learn about pace counting and distance judgment. Relocation techniques are practiced in the woods. Discover how planning ahead can help you stay on track. The role of the navigator is also presented.

On a more practical note, taking a navigation clinic would strengthen my very limited map and compass skills, so that when I’m backcountry camping I don’t have to rely only on my battery-powered GPS unit! I have been wanting to do a hands-on clinic for a few years now.

So, I signed my daughter and I up for the clinic in Ancaster, and we learned lots in those 4 hours. The instructors (Meghan and Kris were excellent.

Of course the next (il)logical step was to sign myself up for an orienteering race – in the dark!

Spoiler alert: I am home typing this blog post, so I survived, didn’t get (too) lost in the dark, and even earned a few points!

I arrived at Kerncliff Park in Burlington for the X-League 30 minute race. Some might wonder, “What could possibly go wrong in 30 minutes?” I knew better. I checked in on arrival (with Meghan my instructor from the clinic), paid $5 (fundraiser for Don’t Get Lost adventure running athletes), picked up a map, and was able to orient myself and study the map to plan an approach before the race began. I was nervous, hoping that I wouldn’t get completely lost – at least we were required to carry a whistle! Next time I would probably arrive earlier to have a few more minutes to prepare. I also spotted Chris the other instructor.

At 6:55 PM there was a very short pre-race briefing, during which Meghan mentioned that the controls (checkpoints) were inside the circles on the map. She also told us to use the hole punch on our map at the controls to prove that we were there. By this point, it was dark out and everyone was wearing headlamps. With a countdown from 10, the race was on!

Given that this was my first race (in the dark no less), and you could attempt to do as few or as many of the controls as you wanted to in 30 minutes, I decided to go for only the “easy” ones, not the “intermediate”, “advanced” or “expert” ones. I planned to do #1, then #2, then #4, and if I made it that far, I would decide what to do. There were 11 in total. When the race started I wasn’t the only one running for #1 – there were 5-10 headlamps in front of me (this made it rather easy to find). Ditto for #2, but I did take a bearing with the compass and follow along on the map for both of them. From there I headed for #4, but couldn’t for the life of me find it. I did find a man – a parent volunteer for the kids doing their Adventure Running Kids program – who didn’t know if a control was there but did think there was one on the bridge. I hadn’t seen a bridge. I backtracked back up the hill, went down again to the little creek, and when I couldn’t find it still, decided to backtrack again, find the path and head for a different control. As I was out there, I also realized that I wasn’t holding the map the way I should have been, moving myself around the map rather than the map around me (to keep it oriented to always be facing the way it should be). It was then that I got mixed up and wasn’t sure where I was. But I found Kris, who was also turned around. We started looking for #6, but it turns out we weren’t where we thought we were, and given the time we had to give up and head back to the finish. We did eventually figure out where we were (it was mostly Kris!), and we reached the end approximately 3 minutes over the 30 minute cut-off (Meghan wrote our time down).

I had to calculate my points (before time penalties) and it was pretty easy – 25 points for #1 and 25 for #2. I wrote them on a sheet along with everyone else’s results (at least a couple of people got all controls!). With probably 30 points in penalties, I think I ended up with 20 points. Woohoo! I was in the positive. I could have ended up with 0, or not found a single control.

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See the punches at #1 and #2. Proof that I made it there!

In talking to people afterwards, I realized my error at #4 – I was looking for the control under the number four on the map, not under the circle!!! I was assured that this was a rookie mistake that everyone makes. It was actually on the bridge that the man mentioned to me!

When I got home (I got home!) I realized that I hadn’t even looked at the scale on the map before I started running – another potential fatal flaw!

All in all I had fun, and was glad to have found Kris out there to find my way back. I learned how much harder it is to navigate at night in the dark, but how fun orienteering can be. I’d say there were about 30 people doing the race tonight, and I may have been the only brand new one. The people I spoke with were very friendly.

I am hoping to do another weeknight X-League race before the November 13 Raid the Hammer 12k adventure run, which I have signed up to do with my teammates Alasdair and Rebecca (ARK de Triumph triathlon relay team reunited as an orienteering team) – a first orienteering race for them (I’m now the expert – ha!). In the meantime, I’ll likely take my Kerncliff Park map and go back to try to find where the controls were tonight – they won’t be there, but I’ll get to practice my map reading skills!

I think I’m hooked.

[UPDATE: I might have finished in last place, but I actually got 30 points, not 20, with only 20 time fault penalties! There’s hope for me yet.]