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 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.
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.
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!
With COVID-19 resulting in the cancellation of events and races left, right and centre, the orienteering community has found a way to keep people active in the outdoors!
If you’re looking for a super fun way to challenge your brain and body while discovering new places, keep reading!
Orienteering is an activity for everyone – walkers, runners, kids, families, seniors, and uber-competitive high performance athletes. You don’t need any special skills!
Pre-COVID-19, people would meet at a specific location at a specific time, register, get a map, plan their route, chat with others, and then take part in a race, in urban areas, forests, and in secluded wilderness areas (on foot, bike, canoe, etc.). Clearly this isn’t possible during COVID-19 restrictions.
Instead, clubs like Don’t Get Lost and Orienteering Ottawa have switched gears, offering orienteering opportunities for people to do on their own schedule, solo or as a family, as long as you have a smartphone or a smart watch.
If you live in proximity to Hamilton/Burlington, Oakville, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Niagara, London and Barrie, Don’t Get Lost has orienteering opportunities for you! (I can’t speak to the events run by Orienteering Ottawa, as I live too far away to have taken part.)
Don’t Get Lost X-league
I have been participating in X-league races for a few years now, and am thankful that races are still possible COVID-19 style. The premise is simple.
You register online.
You print the map at home.
You download the MapRun F app.
You go to the map start/finish location on your own with your map (no compass required!).
You walk or run the course on a mix of city streets and parks and trails within the allotted time limit (usually 40-60 minutes), while the MapRun F app does it’s thing in the background. COVID-19 style, there’s no orange/white flag to find. Your phone will beep when you’ve “found” the control.
You instantly see your results.
You go home.
If you want, you can connect with others in a Facebook group.
You can’t even get lost, because you can look on the app to see where you are if you’re not sure. Another bonus – these races are very inexpensive! Some are FREE to try right now!
If you’re into all things data, you can look at the results of everyone who did the race. You can see:
You can even see everyone moving in “real time” – i.e. as if everyone started at the same time, their dots move and you can see who went where and how quickly. Below is a snapshot of the animation showing everyone moving at once. You can watch a snapshot of just your route, or of any combination of people.
You can even see if anyone ran off the map. Below, you’ll see someone went for a long swim (!) and someone else ran across the railroad tracks (!). Both very unlikely – probably GPS confusion!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some people might think we’re crazy, but minutes before the Storm the Trent Trek Long Course Race was to begin was the first time my racing partner Rebecca and I had been in a canoe since last August, a full 9 months earlier! Suffice it to say our canoe prep was minimal. We fared much better on the mountain biking, trail running, and orienteering prep side of things.
This was to be our first time participating in Storm the Trent, and only our second adventure race of this kind, after last August’s Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race, a canoeing/mountain biking/trail running race that did not involve any orienteering. We chose the middle distance race, which would entail approximately 7k of canoeing, 39k of mountain biking and 9k of trekking. This was the first year for the race to be held in Haliburton.
Going into the race, we had no idea what order the events would be in, or even how many times we would be doing each event. Would we start in the canoes or running? Given that our bikes were a few kilometres away, it was clear we wouldn’t be riding to start!
On race morning we drove to Glebe Park where we got plates for our bikes, and left our bikes on a rack, with our helmets, bike shoes, and water bottles.
Next we dropped our canoe off at Head Lake Park.
Then we went to AJ LaRue Arena to register, picking up our race instructions, 3 race maps, pinnies, and buffs. We also had to show our PFDs and other items from the mandatory gear list. We headed back to the canoe to leave our PFDs, then sat at the arena reading the race instructions and planning our route. The goal was to find all 14 checkpoints as quickly as possible. Three would be in the water on floating buoys, and the rest found while mountain biking or running. We learned that the order of events would be canoe/run/bike/run/bike/run/bike.
After the pre-race briefing, during which we learned that at one point on the bike course we would go through water above our knees (depending how tall we were), we all headed to the water and our boats. Solo athletes were in kayaks, and teams in canoes.
Canoe leg (around 7k)
On the water we found our friend Kristin, chatted with other racers, and then the race began! It was a mass start, with some bumper boat action and jostling to get away from other boats.
For the 3 checkpoints on the water (CP1a, CP1b, and CP1c), we only had to get close enough to read the clue on them – for example, one told us that checkpoint 31 would be at a trail junction. We didn’t insert our SI sticks into card readers at these checkpoints. I wondered how well it would work for everyone to make a sharp left hand turn after the first checkpoint, but it went pretty smoothly – pretty polite Canadian paddlers are around us! All three of these checkpoints were easy to find, except that the last one was spinning in the wind and as we got closer we feared we would have to paddle up behind it to read it, but it spun again and phew – no need! In the last couple of kilometres my forearms were getting awfully tired and tight! We reached the shore between 57 and 58 minutes into the race.
Run leg 1 (around 2k)
After quickly removing our pinnies and PFDs, putting our pinnies back on and putting on our camelbaks, we were on our way, stopping first at CP1 to insert the SI stick (Rebecca was wearing it on a lanyard around her neck), and then running a couple of kilometres to our bikes.
Bike leg 1 (around 14k)
I ran for the portapotty, then once we changed our shoes and put on our helmets, we stopped at CP2 on our way out of the park, and we headed straight up a steep hill. It would be the first of many over the course of the race. The bike routes were all marked, so it was easy to know where to go. After a little while on a road, the route turned into the woods, where we met faster athletes coming back from CP3. This section was challenging, not only for the off-road nature, but because of the 2-way traffic. At times the trail was too narrow for riders to go in both directions when rocks or roots or big puddles of mud were in the way. Riding down a hill I was faced with riders coming up (and vice versa), but everyone was very respectful of the other riders. I didn’t hear anyone get angry when someone stopped dead in front of them.
It was between CP3 and CP4 that we encountered the deep water! I walked my bike through the deepest part, worried about falling over and getting my phone wet (which was in my camelbak, but not in a waterproof bag). The water was higher than my knee. Some people rode right through it, but one guy fell forward onto his face (he was fine!).
After the trail section ended we found CP4, then headed on the road back to Glebe Park and CP5 (which was also CP2).
Run leg 2 (around 3k)
At this point, we found Kristin at her bike and set off into the woods with her, agreeing on our route and heading in a counterclockwise direction to find CP30, CP31, CP33 and CP34. Three of these checkpoints were the ones that we found clues for while canoeing. None of these were hard to find, though we did walk some of the hills instead of running them. It was hot and humid and the break from running was welcome. We checked in at CP5 again, and this time when we headed off on our bikes, we took our running shoes with us, since we wouldn’t be returning to Glebe Park.
Bike leg 2 (around 14k)
It was on this 2nd bike leg that I was feeling very low energy overall. This section was mostly flat, and much of it along a rail trail, but I was having trouble staying with Rebecca. She was getting further and further away. I was drinking gatorade, had eaten some gels and an energy bar, but just couldn’t muster up any more power. I’m not sure what was going on. Maybe the heat?
This part of the course was pretty, and where I spotted 2 painted turtles sitting on a log in the water along the rail trail. Eventually, we made our way to CP6 at Camp Wanakita (where I camped 2 summers as a kid). Here race officials did another gear check, asking to see our 2 whistles and emergency blanket.
Run leg 3 (around 4k)
It was at this spot that we ran into our friend John, who was doing the longer Elite course (crazy as he is). And once again, we met up with Kristin (who probably arrived so far ahead of us that she napped while we caught up to her), and after a quick shoe change and water re-fill, we headed into the woods to find CP44, CP45, CP43, and CP40. Despite the race organizers saying that there would be no water on the course, there were big jugs that we were able to use to add about a bottle’s worth to our water bottles or camelbaks (I suspect they changed their minds due to the high temperature and humidity). I added water to my camelbak, which I started the race filled with 2L of water.
I blindly followed Kristin and Rebecca, but before too long, we weren’t sure where the path was we were looking for, nor where exactly we were on the map. We weren’t the only ones confused at this spot. We probably wasted 15 minutes here, but eventually, when we saw other racers coming out of the woods, we decided it must be the way to go, despite us earlier heading that way and coming out again confused. From that point on it was smooth sailing.
Despite a weather forecast for the day that called for a risk of thunderstorms, the potentially disastrous weather never did arrive. We heard distant thunder on this run leg, but there was no rain, and the thunder stayed far away.
After finding the 4 checkpoints, we stopped again at CP6, then jumped on our bikes for the ride to the finish line.
Bike leg 3 (around 13k)
In case there was any doubt, Haliburton is hilly. Very hilly. On this last bike leg, which started up a steep hill and continued up many more, it seemed we couldn’t catch a break. Sure, there were a couple of good downhills (whee!), but for the most part it felt like we were climbing dirt road after dirt road. A few times I yelled to Rebecca that I needed to stop at the top of a hill to catch my breath, but when we stopped, the black flies swarmed! I didn’t care – I needed a breather! My back was also tightening up (likely from my posture). The most cruel hill may have been the very last one, which was steep and long! We ended up walking parts of the last few hills. At CP50, the race officially ended – our time was stopped, and we could take post-race pictures. We finished the race in just under 6 hours and 40 minutes, and covered about 57 km!
However, we still had to make our way down a steep hill to the finish line. It was a dirt switchback path, which was fun to ride, though I could see why the race organizers didn’t want people racing down it to the finish line – it was steep! At the bottom we made our way to the finishing arch, and then rode back down to the water where our vehicle was parked. I dove into the lake and felt so much better afterwards! Then we headed to the arena for the post-race food and the award ceremony.
We had no idea how we had placed, though we knew we weren’t 1st, 2nd or 3rd! It turns out we were 8th out of 17 team of 2 women. Not bad for two athletes who hadn’t been in a canoe in 9 months and who only just started mountain biking (me in the fall and Rebecca this spring)!
I will definitely do this race again. It was superbly well organized, with excellent volunteers. Thank you Storm Racing!
If you’d like a chuckle, check out the race results for no other reason than to read the funny team names that people came up with (Rebecca and I are “Define Lost”). There are some great ones, like “Lost but making good time”, “4 Guys & an Alternate Named Steve”, and “That’s not on the map”.
With an 80 cm base of snow in the Blue Mountain area a few days before the Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid was set to be held, it looked like we were in store for perfect snowshoeing conditions! And then, just two days before the race a serious thaw had many of us wondering whether there would be any snow left at all! The night before the race, an email from the race organizers clarified things: snowshoes recommended! Phew.
On race morning, we awoke to a temperature of -24C with the windchill. I didn’t want to be cold (in particular at higher, exposed elevations), but didn’t want to be overdressed either (in lower forested areas). I settled on 3 layers on the bottom (plus gaiters), 4 on the top, a balaclava, a toque, gloves and shells. I debated wearing ski goggles! I also carried an extra pair of socks, extra pair of gloves, a fleece sweater, and toe warmers, just in case!
I arrived at Blue Mountain with my friend and teammate Rebecca (team “Define Lost”), to find another friend (Kim) very happy to see me. Her teammate and son was sick and unable to race, and since you can’t race alone in the Snowshoe Raid, she asked to join our team. With the blessing of the race organizers, we became a team of 3.
We were to be bussed to the start line at Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, and then would have 3 hours to find as many of the controls as possible. There were no mandatory controls, but if you went into the “matrix” and found controls in this part of the map, you had to go to the aid station to prove that you found them (by showing the holes punched on your map – there were manual hole punches at these controls). The controls were scored as follows: 25 points for green, 50 for blue, 75 for black, 100 for double black, and 150 for you’re crazy and no way am I going there!
We used highlighters to mark our intended route, and decided that at checkpoint 50 we would do a time check and see what we still had time to do. After the pre-race briefing and a last pitstop, we headed to the busses, dropping a bag off so that it would be waiting for us at the race finish (warm layers, if needed).
The bus ride lasted around 20 minutes. It was very shortly after we arrived (I was debating whether I would pee on the side of the road as many of the guys were doing!) when there was an announcement: the race would be starting in 4 minutes! I didn’t even have my snowshoes on. I quickly got myself organized, and the race began!
At first it was a snowshoe walk, as we all had to follow the same trail for a while. Eventually, people spread out and we could run.
Our plan was to go for controls 52, 53, 54, 55, 44, 50, 42, 40 (if it looked like we could cross the creek, which we were warned pre-race was a flowing creek because of the thaw), and then if we had time, we would enter the matrix, doing 33, 32, the aid station, 39 and then the finish.
We weren’t sure how much we would be able to run, and how much walking we would do. At times, the snow didn’t hold our weight and we sunk down a foot or more. In these sections I ran less, worried that I would hurt myself. On packed down trails it was easy to run.
We found 52 (green) quite easily, but struggled to find 53 (double black) and ended up overshooting it. Our bearing must have been off. When we hadn’t found it where we expected to, we kept going (maybe over the next hill!), but we really were’t sure whether we had gone too far left of it, or too far right. When we reached a snowmobile trail, we realized what we had done (we had gone too far right), and instead went for 54 (blue). Knowing exactly where we were then, and planning to head back toward 53 anyway en route to 55, we tried again, and found it (just before we got there, we were heading up a hill when down the hill comes Barb, who very often wins her age category – “that’s a good sign!” we said, and we were right!). There is such satisfaction in finding something that you have struggled to find! I hate giving up on controls.
One thing that’s interesting about snowshoe orienteering is that you can see which way other people went… but they may have been just as lost as you, or walking randomly in hopes of finding something that matches the map. And the trails… oh, the trails… what would be easy to find in the summer may be impossible to spot in the winter! If no one has walked on a trail recently, you may have no idea where it is. At Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, the snowmobile trail was easy to spot, but the tiny trails? Not so much.
Since we couldn’t rely on the trails being visible, we used pace counting to figure out how far we had gone.
Next up was control 55 (blue), which we found easily. At 44 (black diamond), the sun was peeking through the forest making it very pretty!
It was when I started ascending the hill to 50 (blue) that I realized I had a problem! I was walking on two big mounds of ice built up under the metal grips of my snowshoes (the toe crampons). I couldn’t grip the ground, and was just sliding down the hill. It was a very steep climb. I whacked my snowshoe against a tree many times before I dislodged the ice, but had trouble with the second. Eventually, I got it. Given the temperature (cold!) I wasn’t expecting ice build-up.
We descended the hill, and checking the time, knew that we wouldn’t have time to do the controls in the matrix. 39 (green) wasn’t in the matrix, but from the road, it would involve a significant climb – it was “green” only if you were in the matrix and following a trail – so we skipped it. We headed for 42 (blue), which was easy to find because all we had to do was run along the road looking for a creek – since it was flowing, it was quite obvious! We followed the creek uphill until we found the control.
We were doubtful that we had time to go for control 40, but I figured we should try it. Rebecca had in her head that we still had 3k to run to the finish, when in fact it was 1.5. When she realized her error, she agreed that we had time to go for it. Kim decided to head to the finish, so Rebecca and I headed into the woods. We got about 10 metres in when we found the wide (6 feet?) flowing creek, and knew there was no way we were crossing it. We didn’t have time to run up and down the creek looking for a safe crossing spot (a guy there said they had tried to find a spot), so instead we headed for the finish!
We crossed the finish line in 2:52:11, with a total of 400 points. Had we been over the allotted 3 hours, we would have lost 30 points per minute.
After grabbing some hot chocolate and ginger cookies, and grabbing my backpack with extra clothes (which I didn’t need at that point), I made my way to the busses for the ride back to Blue Mountain, where a hot lunch was waiting for us.
I was relieved that my clothing choices worked out well – I had chilly fingers at the very start, but otherwise I was comfy!
I had fun racing with Rebecca and Kim. With the exception of control 53, we didn’t have trouble finding anything.
The race was super well organized. I highly recommend it!
I don’t think I’ve ever paid so much attention to outdoor Christmas decorations in my life!
On a Thursday night in December at -9 degrees Celsius (feeling colder with the wind) I set out with my daughter and our friends to participate in the Raid the Ham orienteering race in Westdale (part of Hamilton, Ontario), a holiday-themed race doubling as a fundraiser for the Don’t Get Lost junior athletes.
This race was open to everyone, even beginner-level navigators. Before looking at the map, you had to predict your finishing time based only on the length of the course (there were 2 to choose from: “short” at 2.2 km and “long” at 4.8 km). We didn’t know how many checkpoints there would be, just that at each one there wouldn’t be a flag – instead, we would have to answer a question about holiday decorations. I decided to do the short course, and predicted a (ridiculously long) time of 47 minutes. We were not allowed to run with any timing devices, but if we arrived at the finish earlier than we thought we would, we could stand around and not punch the finish control right away.
We were able to look at our maps shortly before the race started. All of the 10 checkpoints on the short course were on city streets (nothing in parks, along trails or in the woods), so it was very easy to navigate using just the map (no compass required). We had to do the checkpoints in order from 1 to 10, and fill in our answers as we went along (pencils and pens were provided!).
When the race started, I took off running in search of the 1st checkpoint, which would be at house #48 on a nameless street (see below for a picture of the questions we had to answer). The question was “What is in the front yard?”, and the answer was a snowman. I wrote that down and kept running. Apologies for the chicken scratch. It was so cold that I didn’t want to stop for long to write, and my pencil wasn’t working very well!
When I got to #3, I realized that I was way ahead of schedule (it would never take me 47 minutes!), so I commented to the 2 people near me that I was running so fast I could stop to take a picture. Emil responded that I had time for a nap (or maybe it was a coffee!).
In any case, I kept running, and eventually my fingers warmed up! It was somewhere around checkpoint 5 that I realized I was no longer wearing the (borrowed) SI stick on my finger, the timing device that would record my time. “Oh no!” I thought. “I’m in trouble now.” (These things are expensive!!!) Do I keep running? Do I go back? Where would it be? Would someone have seen it and picked it up? Thankfully, I remembered almost immediately that to take the picture at checkpoint 3, I took my glove off! And when I took my glove off, the SI stick probably fell off my gloved finger! So, I retraced my steps, and 10m or so away from the polar bear, I spotted the SI stick on the sidewalk in the snow! PHEW!
I found the rest of the checkpoints, but figured #8 must have been a trick (“How many trees have lights?” I found none.). Checkpoint number 10 resulted in a few seconds of confusion as I misread the clue and was looking for a red window rather than red letters hanging in the window!
When I reached the finish, I decided I was way too early to punch in, so I waited a bit, but then punched. I figured there was no way I would have the closest guess!
Another runner (Courtney) asked if anyone was interested in doing some of the long course while waiting for everyone else to finish, so I went along with her and we did the first 5 checkpoints of the 15 on that course (some of the ones we didn’t do were ones we had actually done on the short course). We only had a problem with the 5th, and only because the house was #250 not #150 as was marked on the map. This was also the house with an “unseasonable item” on the porch (a pumpkin!).
When I returned to the finish (again), most if not everyone was back. It wasn’t long before Meghan announced the winner, who was just 16 seconds off his predicted time. I was curious to see how far off I was, so I asked Meghan, but my time didn’t show up on the computer. I punched the finish again (instead of the download!) and overwrote my original time. With my new, longer time, I ended up being 4 minutes and 14 seconds longer than I predicted. Had my original finishing time been captured, I would have been way further off!
This was a really fun race, and totally doable for newbie orienteers! Thanks Don’t Get Lost for another great night.
After competing in the Ontario Orienteering Championships sprint and middle distance races on Saturday, October 28, I was up for one more race on the Sunday – the Don’t Get Lost Peak2Peak Adventure Run! This would be great preparation for the upcoming Don’t Get Lost Raid the Hammer race.
While I signed up for the Peak2Peak as an individual racer (not a team), I had planned to run through the woods with my friend Rebecca. Then my friend Kristin, new to orienteering, asked if she could tag along. And on race morning, we gained one more racer – John, who I met at the STAR Tracks Mountain Bike Adventure in October, and who would be racing with Kristin at Raid the Hammer.
By the time Kristin and John joined us pre-race at St. Thomas school in Waterdown, we had already planned our proposed route. With 2 hours to get as many controls as possible (and only 1 mandatory one, the first one, which was 1 km from the race start line), we knew we couldn’t find them all and would have to strategize. We decided that because we have never found all of the dog bone controls in a race before, that would be our goal. Dog bones are 2 controls that you must do sequentially (e.g. #2A and 2B). You can normally do them in any order, but you can’t punch another control in between (even if it’s nearby!) or you don’t get the bonus points for the dog bone. We also decided to run the optional “prologue” section of the course, which was the Ontario Orienteering Championships long course for kids under 12. Beyond that, we weren’t sure how many controls we would have time for.
The race started and off we went! The first bottleneck was a metal gate that we had to squeeze through or climb over. The next bottleneck was the first control, which everyone had to punch. It was at this point that we were able to collect the map for the “prologue” section. We weren’t the only ones starting with this course! The 7 controls were all on trails or very slightly off them, and were easy to find.
From there we headed for the dog bones, picking up one control on our way. With the exception of one control that we overshot (our first of the dog bones), we didn’t have much trouble finding them. We did, however, have to run up and down many hills to get between them! And, we found all 6 controls making up the 3 dog bones. Success!
There was a neat section that we planned to do if we had time, but unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. It was called “Walk the Line” – if you walked the marked line on the map (not marked in real life) you would find 3 controls. It was a neat idea that I hope I get the chance to try at another race.
Another opportunity at the end of the race was to pick up a small map on your way back when you passed the first control, which would show you wheree to find 3 bonus controls. You weren’t allowed to take the map with you, but you could mark your map, or take a picture of the new map, or just memorize where to find the controls. We didn’t have time for this section either.
In the last km, John and Kristin were running quicker than Rebecca and I, so they finished first and Kristin was able to snap a picture of Rebecca and I finishing.
In the end, I finished in 1:57:39 with 770 points, good for 22nd place out of 35 women in the open age group.
This race was super fun. I really enjoy being able to choose which controls I go for. I’m looking forward to Raid the Hammer this weekend, which I will do with Rebecca and my husband Alasdair as team “Three Triathletes Watching for Falling Trees”.
Recently I was approached by Orienteering Canada, who was interested in interviewing me as a newbie orienteer and blogger of my orienteering* adventures. [* Orienteering is “a competitive or noncompetitive recreational activity in which participants use a map and compass to navigate between checkpoints along an unfamiliar course (as in the woods)” according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.
Orienteering Canada provides leadership and resources to those involved in Canadian orienteering (athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers).
You can read the interview here. See why you, too, should try orienteering!