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: Snowshoe Raid 2019

This year’s Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid became a Spike Raid when there wasn’t enough snow to warrant snowshoes. It was disappointing, but my race partner Rebecca and I were keen to try our Kahtoola microspikes with trail running shoes for the first time, so all was not lost! And it’s not as if it wasn’t cold enough for snow – at the start of the race, it was -20C or colder with the wind chill. Brrr! I filled my water bottle with boiling water in hopes that it wouldn’t freeze up during the race (it worked, but the water was ice cold by the end).

After spending the night at a local Airbnb, we arrived at Blue Mountain (ski resort) with plenty of time to pick up our race maps and instructions and plan our route. We received 1 map each, but learned that 1 hour into the 3 hour race, we could pick up a new map at the aid station, which would include the original checkpoints plus additional ones. This made route planning a little trickier, because while we knew that the 2nd map would include 500 extra points (the original had 1,150), we had no idea where the new checkpoints would be.

All checkpoints were either green (25 points), blue (50 points), black (75 points) or double black (100 points) depending on level of difficulty. Each team of 2 would have to start with an approximately 1k uphill climb to the first checkpoint, after which they could go in search of as few or as many checkpoints as they wished, in any order. In addition, there was a “matrix” section of the map, an area with 5 checkpoints in it, where teammates could split up to find them faster (you proved you found the checkpoint by using a manual punch to put holes in your map, as opposed to using an electronic chip for the rest of the race).

After the pre-race briefing, we all headed to the school buses that were waiting to take us to the start line, from where we would enter the Loree Forest, which surrounded Blue Mountain on the east, west and south sides.

When the race began, we started running, but our pace slowed as the hill got steeper, and we joined a long line of people walking up a narrowing path. There was a bit of a bottleneck, but I’m not sure I would have gone any faster without anyone in front of me, at least not until we got to the top, where some maneuvering around people and trees was required. Rebecca and I headed off to find a double black and two black controls, which we found, but it took longer than we expected it to – it was hillier than we anticipated. And boy was it ever hilly! To add to the fun, for some reason my compass was not working properly. The needle was jumping all over the place, which I’m assuming was the cold temperature wreaking havoc. Rebecca’s didn’t seem much better. Thankfully, we didn’t need them much!

Next we headed into the matrix section, where we split up. Rebecca was to do 2 controls, me the remaining 3, and then we would meet at the aid station within the matrix.

On the Bruce Trail.

While running along the Bruce Trail at one point, a friend was running towards me when he did the gentlemanly thing and stepped off the hard packed snow to the side so I could pass by. What neither of us knew was that there was quite a drop, and he fell. He was fine, and as usual ended up kicking our butts. Thanks Chris. 🙂

Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost

When I reached the aid station, I didn’t see Rebecca, so I grabbed myself a cup of hot chocolate – just what I needed to warm up my lower lip so that I could speak properly again! There were also cookies and donuts, but I just had a few of Rebecca’s M&Ms when she turned up. We got our new maps, took a couple of minutes to discuss the new controls and slightly alter our route, and then headed out. We didn’t want to stop for long – we were getting cold!

We stuck to our original plan to head to the east from the matrix, but added a new blue control that wasn’t on the original map. We did a lot of trail running versus bushwhacking during this race, but we did have some stellar navigation using a big hill (no compass!) as our reference point in this section. Yay us.

Given the elapsed time, we knew we couldn’t go any further away from the finish at this point, so we started heading to the finish line, grabbing another black on our way. We decided that the last few controls near the finish – which we were planning to do “if we had time” (we never have time!) – were probably out of reach. However, with about 12 minutes to go we were running along a road seeing people coming out of the trees, and realized that one of the controls was actually very close to us. We decided that even if going for it put us slightly overtime, it would be worth it.

From there we ran to the finish, getting there with just under 2 minutes to spare (the penalty was -30 points per minute over the 3 hours). We ended up with 650 points.

In talking to others after the race, I realized that our race strategy might not have been the best. The first two controls we went for (after the mandatory first one) were pretty far for what they were worth. We might have earned more points trying to find more controls of lower value that weren’t so far away. As well, when we got the second map, we could have headed west instead of east, where there was a cluster of 3 blacks close together.

In any case, it was a fun race! We are always learning.

At the finish there was more hot chocolate and sweet treats, and buses waiting to take teams back to Blue Mountain, where we were provided with a hot lunch. After the awards, we headed home!

Note: I loved the Kahtoola microspikes. I even forgot that I was wearing them. I also loved my new waterproof socks, which kept my feet warm and toasty.

  • Time: 2:58:23
  • Female teams (not master females): 6/13
  • All teams: 52/110
Pretty sunset on the way home

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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: Raid the City 2018 (brand new urban orienteering race)

This year Don’t Get Lost added a new race to their calendar, Raid the City, a 3-hour urban orienteering race with a twist in the city of Hamilton! Here’s how it differed from other orienteering races:Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 4.04.58 PM

Just like in other races, checkpoints varied in point value depending on their difficulty (in general, checkpoints that are further away or harder to access are worth more points).

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Two maps, and one apple to keep them from blowing away.

It was completely up to individual teams to decide which checkpoints they wanted to go for. After registering and getting our two maps, Alasdair and I made our plan. We decided to go for all of the black (difficult) and double black (expert) checkpoints, as well as all the blue (intermediate) ones if we had time. We didn’t think we’d go for any green (easy) ones, except our first checkpoint on the way to our first blue.

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Ready to go!

After a short pre-race meeting, we were off!

While checkpoints were marked on the two race maps, the Goose Chase app had additional information about each one (e.g. plaque about X, or Gate 1 at Tim Horton field). There was also a picture of the spot we were looking for – which was also what our own pictures should look like, with at least one team member (with race bib visible) in it!

We quickly found our first checkpoint – a plaque in a park – but I didn’t realize until we got to our second checkpoint that taking a picture isn’t enough – you actually have to submit it as well!

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Second checkpoint we found, but first one where I successfully submitted a picture as proof! [Fail on the “race bib visible”.]

The rest of the race saw us visiting checkpoints at Tim Horton Field, Gage Park, the Chedoke Radial Trail, Auchmar Mansion, another historical plaque, a park at the top of the Jolley Cut, the Bruce Trail, and the Dundurn Stairs. We did really well on the navigation, only backtracking once when we overshot a wood wall along the Chedoke Radial Trail.

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“Oskee wee wee!” When we reached this checkpoint just after Craig and his teammate from Get Out There Magazine, we watched them videotape themselves doing the Ticat cheer!
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Along the Chedoke Radial Trail.
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Top of the Jolley Cut on Hamilton mountain.

To get up the Hamilton Mountain, we climbed the 500 step Wentworth Stairs. What a climb!

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That white squiggly on the rock to my right was key to this checkpoint.

It was after the checkpoint along the Bruce Trail on top of the escarpment that Alasdair and I didn’t agree on where we should go next. My running pace was slowing, I had been fighting a side stitch, and I knew that if we went to the final double black diamond checkpoint at the top of the Dundurn Stairs (which was to the West, while the finish was to the South-East), we would be late and would lose points (20 points per minute late). Alasdair was sure I could make it, and even if we went over the 3 hours, it would still be worth it to get the 150 points. I was convinced that we would lose those points and then some, but agreed to try.

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No more stair climbing! Luckily, we were descending at this point, down the Dundurn Stairs.

At the base of the Dundurn Stairs, we only had time to head straight back to the finish. My side stitch got worse, so we had to take some walk breaks. Alasdair underestimated the distance from the base of the stairs to the finish – it was nearly 6km of straight running!

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Heading for the finish line.

We ended up being 20 minutes late, meaning that we lost 400 of our 1,040 points, finishing in 23rd place out of 32 teams with just 640 points – we ran 22.15 km! Instead of earning 150 points for that last checkpoint, we lost 400. Had we not gone for it, we may have been able to find other ones on our way back to the finish line.

At the finish line, Patrick (one of the race organizers) asked us how it went. “We’re still married!” was Alasdair’s response.

During the race, I checked a couple of times how we were doing relative to the other teams. At one point, we were in 11th place. For a while, we were in 7th place. It was fun to see how we were doing. Of course, the app didn’t know we were going to be so late…

Turns out only one team finished after we did!

This race was super fun, and I highly recommend it. It’s great for those who are new to orienteering, because you don’t need to know how to use a compass. You can look for checkpoints that are close to the start/finish, and run (or walk!) only as far or as long as you want to. You definitely don’t need to cover 22k!

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Race report: Storm the Trent Trek Long Course Race 2018

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.

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Pre-race bike drop-off at Glebe Park. [Photo credit: Kim]

Next we dropped our canoe off at Head Lake Park.

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Pre-race canoe drop-off. Love my Swift Keewaydin.

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.

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Planning our route with the 3 race maps.

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.

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And we’re off! We’re in the bright yellow boat at the top right, wearing white ball caps. I’m in the stern. [Photo credit: Storm the Trent]

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!).

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This deep water section (above my knee when standing in it) was worthy of a photo! Kristin shows us how it’s done.

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?

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Somewhere out on the bike course! [Photo credit: Storm the Trent]

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!

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At CP50, where the race officially ended. [Photo credit: Storm the Trent]

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.

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Post-race after swimming in the lake! [Photo credit: John]

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”.

 Race results

  • Time: 6:38:23
  • Points: 14 (maximum 14)
  • Placing (female teams): 8/17

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Race report: Cambridge Urban Adventure Race

The Cambridge Urban Adventure Race put on by the Stars Orienteering Club is a great example of a race that almost anyone could do, even families with kids! It was set in Hespeler, part of Cambridge, and no compass was required (I carried one, but never used it). Have map, will travel! Teams of 2 could choose their own route, finding as many – or as few – of the controls as they wanted to. Each control was worth 1 point. But every minute late teams were over the 2 hours, they lost 1 point (steep penalty!). Our plan was to do whatever we could to avoid being late!
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Ready to go.
The controls were found on city streets, in urban parks, on pathways, and some a very short distance off trails in the woods. None were too difficult to find.
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Attempting to answer a skill testing question. That skill would be reading. Fail. [Photo credit: Illona Dobos]
6 of the 18 controls required teams to write down answers to questions, some of historical significance (e.g. What are the three names that Hespeler has had throughout its history?). Get the answer wrong, lose the point (speaking from experience here)!
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[Photo credit: Ilona Dobos]
Rebecca and I decided to head further away to start with, leaving controls closer to the finish if we had time. We did decide during the race not to go for 2 of the controls that we thought we would get, which were quite far from the others, and, we feared, would make us late.
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Pretty scenery on the race course. [Photo credit: Ilona Dobos]
In the end, Rebecca and I finished with just over 8 minutes to spare, probably not enough to have found either of the 2 controls we decided to leave. We found 16 of the 18, but only got credit for 15, since in my head I didn’t make the distinction between a levee and a dam, and didn’t read closely enough to spot our error.
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At the finish.
We ran about 14k. It was a fun race! Thank you Stars! Race results:
  • Time: 1:51:54
  • Points: 15
  • Placing: 4/14 adult female teams
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Race report: Don’t Get Lost Knockout Adventure Run

“Did you meet a vampire out there?” I was asked at the end of the race. You can never predict what’s going to happen when you’re out in the woods orienteering! The Don’t Get Lost Knockout Adventure Run in Stoney Creek was a 2-hour race in which you could find as many – or as few – of the controls as you wanted to, but with a twist! There were 2 race maps, with only the first map given to racers before the race began. This meant that strategy would be very important – we were told during the pre-race briefing that the second map would have about 65% of the available points. There were 2 spots on the course where you could pick up the second map, but you had to hand over your first map when you did so – in other words, if you didn’t find all the controls on the first map, and later wanted to look for them, you couldn’t! The other key detail was that you could only pick up the second map from 10:15 to 10:45 at one location (the race started at 10 AM), and from 10:55 to 11:45 AM at the other location. How would it all play out? I talked to other racers before the race and we all had different strategies for maximizing our points. Time would tell who had the best plan.
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Last minute route planning. [Photo by Don’t Get Lost]
Both maps had a mixture of green (25 points), blue (50 points), black diamond/difficult (75 points), and double black diamond/expert (100 points) controls. The race began, and I set out for the south west corner of the map. There were 3 distinct clusters of controls on this map, and I was hoping to be able to clear it (find all the controls) within 1 hour, so that I would still have 1 hour to find as many controls as I could on the second map. I wasn’t the only one heading for this area of the map, so I ended up in a group of people running for the closest control. I found all 4 in this section (3 greens and one black diamond), then headed for the middle area of the map. Some people skipped the first section I did since 3 of them were of low point value, and instead headed for the middle or upper sections.
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Where to next? [Photo by Don’t Get Lost]
The middle section included 5 green controls, none of which took too long to find. The upper part of the map had 3 blue and 1 double black diamond control. I had done an X-league race here before, so was a little familiar with the area – I think this helped! After finding these 4 controls, I headed for the closest pickup location for the second map. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how quickly I had cleared the map (my very first time doing so!), and when I arrived at the parking lot, I had to wait 12 minutes to get the map! I could have run to the other location, and maybe should have, but wondered if I’d really save any time by running there and back (I would have had to run back because the rest of the controls were on the other side of the parking lot.). So instead I chatted with other racers as we waited for the maps to arrive! It was here that I met David, another racer. Once we got our second maps, we headed off together. We skipped a cluster of 5 controls on the way out – I figured if I had time at the end, I would go for some of them. Instead, I wanted to head for the furthest away controls, which were also worth the most points. We quickly found 6 and 7, then descended the escarpment to find 8. We ran toward the Red Hill Parkway, jumping a creek and climbing a hill to find 10. We then crossed under the Red Hill Parkway, found the two double black diamond controls, and then crossed back over to find two more black diamonds. At that point, we had to climb the escarpment again to head back to the finish. I wasn’t sure whether I would have time to get any of the controls we had left near the end. We did get an easy green after climbing the escarpment, but by the time we got to the cluster of controls, I only went for one of them. David headed for another one but quickly changed his mind. We reached the finish line with 12 minutes to spare – we should have gone for at least one of the remaining 4 controls! I didn’t realize how quickly we would reach the finish line. Nevertheless, I found 23 of the 27 controls, which was a great result for me!
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Done! [Photo by Don’t Get Lost]
It was once I went back into the gym that many people pointed out my war wound! I don’t even know when it happened. It looked worse than it was – the cut was actually quite small.
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War wound. [Photo by Don’t Get Lost]
A couple of the women who placed ahead of me skipped the 4 controls that I did at the beginning of the race on the first map, and instead ended up getting more controls on the second map, which were worth more points – so, their strategy was better! However, they cleared the second map with time to spare, but couldn’t go find those 4 controls – had they cleared the first map, they may still have cleared the second one and likely placed higher. Who knows! Strategy was definitely key! Race results
  • Time: 1:48:43
  • Points: 1175
  • Placing (open women): 5/13
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