The Flurry 8k Snowshoe Race

Getting to the start line of The Flurry 8k Snowshoe Race was a victory in itself, given my Superman dive while skating just a month before. I did a short test run three days before the race and didn’t feel the injured muscles near my ribs, and while my legs were tight the next couple of days for lack of run practice, I declared myself ready to race! This would be my first time on snowshoes this winter, my first snowshoe race in two years, and just my second run in a month – what could go wrong?! Oh, and it was predicted to feel like -19 degrees Celsius with the wind. My goals were to make it to the finish line and to have fun in the process.

I arrived at the race site at Marydale Park in Mount Hope (Hamilton) to discover that one of the Happy Trails volunteers lives on my street – small world! I picked up my race kit (a big, awesome mug, a buff, and my race bib) and went back to my car to get organized. I immediately realized that I was under-dressed (unusual for me!), but thankfully I had a Happy Trails hoodie with me for after the race that I decided to wear while racing. I got my snowshoes on and wondered where everyone was, since there were only a few people outside. Turns out they were inside for the pre-race briefing, which I almost missed.

The race

[Photo credit: Sue Sitki]

We were incredibly fortunate that a recent snowfall had blanketed the race course with the perfect amount of snow – not too little, and not too much! We would be running 2 laps of a 4k course, which included a loop and an out and back section.

I tried to position myself well back of the start line, but people kept lining up behind me. Oh well, they would soon find out that they would have to pass me! With a very laid-back 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 countdown, we were off!

Almost immediately I was doubting my ability to run 8k on snowshoes! After running a loop around a field, we hit the full force of the wind and blowing snow head-on! Wow! While I felt like I should be running faster through the windy sections to get out of them sooner, I ended up slowing down and sometimes walking. In fact the entire race was a run/walk combo for me.

[Photo credit: Sue Sitki]

Before the race began, I wondered how visible the course flags would be given the blowing snow. I need not have worried. I could easily spot the flags, and in fact the easiest thing to do was to follow the people who had gone before me and the tracks they left behind! I entered the forest – so pretty – and felt that I was slowing people down. I told the runners behind me to let me know if they wanted to pass. It didn’t take long before I had to pull over anyway – snow was clumping under my snowshoes. Unfortunately, over the course of the race I had to stop and kick my snowshoes against trees between 10 and 20 times! Please send your tips my way. I used ski wax on my snowshoes before the race, but it seemed to have no effect. I didn’t notice anyone stopping as often as I did.

It was really nice to see some familiar faces at the race (Lisa, Mauro, Steve), and to be able to cheer for one another too. Trail runners are a friendly bunch!

[Photo credit: Sue Sitki]

During the out and back section of the course I stepped into the deeper snow to the side of the tramped down path to allow faster people running towards me to pass. In fact the race winner finished before I finished my first loop!

By the second loop runners were much more spread out, though I did run parts with two women named Mary and Andrée (nice to meet you!). Having run the first lap I knew I could run it again. I counted down the kilometres and looked for owls as I ran. Of course.

There were a few non-racers walking on the trail, but none of them wanted to take my place! At the out and back turnaround I spotted a car in the ditch with a police car nearby. The winds were quite ferocious and snow drifts fast accumulating with blowing snow. Thankfully there was protection from the wind in the forest.

The 4k race was set to start 1 hour after the 8k race, and I wondered if I would be passed by a 4k runner before I finished – I was.

At the finish line (I made it!) I was presented with a giant-sized medal! Then I went inside for some hot soup and hot chocolate. Happy Trails is very eco-conscious, encouraging runners to use re-usable cups and bowls, and providing compostable options as well. I used my awesome new mug for soup, then rinsed it out so I could have hot chocolate before heading home.

It was a challenging race, but I’m glad I healed in time to be able to do it!

Actual size of the race medal!

Race stats

  • Time: 1:17:09 (9:39 min/km)
  • Placing women 45-49: 2/4
  • Placing all women: 14/24
  • Placing all runners: 35/46

Thank you Happy Trails for another great race, and Sue Sitki for your amazing photos!

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyraonthego

Follow me on Instagram: @kyraonthego

Race report: Dion Winter Goose Chase 7k Snowshoe Race

Five days before the 3rd annual Dion Winter Goose Chase 7k Snowshoe Race, we finally had enough snow for me to get out on my snowshoes for the first time this winter! And very quickly, I remembered just how much more difficult it is to run with snowshoes compared to running without them.

Awesome big ceramic mug, gel, shot bloks, and a draw prize that I won: a buff.

The race is held at Shades Mills Conservation Area in Cambridge. There is a very small building for race registration, post-race food, and bathrooms – the number of participants is limited because of the venue size.

After a few trips to the bathroom, I got myself and my gear organized in the car, and then put my snowshoes on. A few people around me were strapping snowshoes on for the very first time – many people rented them from the race for just $10 (great way to try them out without investing in your own pair!). I gave a few people advice on where your foot should sit, how to tell the left snowshoe from the right one (mine are not interchangeable), and how to go uphill while wearing them.

Prepping snowshoes. [Race photo]

We all headed down to the beach just before the 10:30 AM race start.

Ready to go! [Picture by Mauro]

After a short pre-race briefing, the race began, and we all started chasing the goose and gander (last year’s female and male race winners). To be honest I completely forgot about them once the race began.

And we’re off! Check out the snow flying in the air. [Race photo]

I loved seeing the chunks of snow flying in the air off the backs of runners’ snowshoes (see pic above). My plan was to run as much as I could, but to walk the steep uphills. I remembered from last year’s race that the biggest hill was at the very end!

No hills yet! [Race photo]

By the time we crossed the beach and entered the woods, runners had spread out. In most parts of the race course, which followed trails through the conservation area, the path was wide enough to allow passing. I remember just one place where we were all running on tramped down trail with much deeper snow on the sides, so whoever was on my tail waited until we got out of that section to pass me.

Shades Mill Conservation Area, Cambridge

I used the runners in front of me as pace setters, trying not to let them get away (but many did anyway). I followed a friend named Ted for a while, then when he stopped to adjust his snowshoes I had to find a new target to chase. I passed other friends Mauro and Lisa (who I met during an orienteering race!), and then didn’t see anyone I knew until the race was done.

It wasn’t too long into the race before I first encountered snow clumping on the cleats of my snowshoes. This tends to happen when the temperature warms up and the snow gets sticky. Clumped snow makes it feel like I’m running on top of a small ball, and my ankles don’t like it at all. I had to continually kick my foot hard into the ground to knock the clumps off. I didn’t see anyone else having the same issues – I wonder if, as a friend suggested, it might be the very aggressive cleat on the Atlas Run snowshoe that causes the problem. I may rent Dion snowshoes next year to try them out.

The course was described in the pre-race briefing as rolling hills – make no mistake, it’s a hilly course! It is also very pretty. We were lucky that there was enough snow for snowshoes, given our winter so far.

The course was very well marked, and the race volunteers were great, ensuring at key intersections that runners went the right way. After the last big hill, which is also the longest (one of those hills that just seems to go on and on and on), I could start to hear people cheering at the finish line.

Nearing the finish line! [Race photo]

For the last couple of kilometres, I had the same guy behind me, and I kept wondering when he would pass me. After this hill? Around this corner? On the straightaway to the finish? Nope, he never did.

I hit the finish line in 54:37, for an average pace of 8:28 min/km. I was happy with how my race had gone, despite the snow clumping.

Just a little bit of clumping going on!

Just past the finish line was a fire, which I enjoyed for a few minutes.

Done! [Picture by Danielle]

I changed into dry clothes in my car, and then headed inside for the best post-race food anywhere – a gourmet pancake breakfast! Not 1, not 2, but 3 types of pancakes (regular, gluten-free, and vegan!), blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, bananas, chocolate chips, Nutella, whip cream, fruit sauce, butter, maple syrup and maybe more! Coffee, hot chocolate, and tea too. What a spread put on by the Cambridge Harriers running club! Thank you!

Best post-race food of any race I’ve done.

Once again, I really enjoyed myself . Thank you Lisa and Greg for another great race. See you next year!

Race stats:

  • Distance: 6.5k on my Garmin
  • Time: 54:37
  • Women 40-49: 6/19
  • All racers: 23/66

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyraonthego

Follow me on Instagram: @kyraonthego

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

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyraonthego

Follow me on Instagram: @kyraonthego

Trip report: 4-day snowshoe backcountry camping trip at Algonquin Provincial Park, with one clever thief of a pine marten

The thing about backcountry camping trips is that you can never really know ahead of time the adventures you’ll have! Taking that first step away from the car at the beginning of my 4-day snowshoe trip last week at Algonquin Provincial Park, I had no clue that I would a) do something really stupid, and b) hunt a thief!

Day 1: Mew Lake to Provoking Lake West, via the Highland Trail (3.4 km)

After stopping at the West Gate to purchase our backcountry camping permits, Cheryl and I parked at Mew Lake and loaded all of our stuff onto our 2 homemade sleds. I was eager to try out my modified sled, which I altered this summer to include more attachment points and more rigid poles. In addition to a winter tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, clothing and toiletries, cooking gear, food and emergency supplies such as a first aid kit, we had with us an axe, a saw, and 2 bags of kindling, which we purchased at the wood lot.

It was around -5 degrees Celsius, under a sunny sky!

dscn2783

We headed for the Track and Tower Trail, and then the Highland Trail, which we would hike until we reached Provoking Lake West. It was a Thursday, so there weren’t too many people around. We walked for 3.4 km before setting up camp, which is a much slower process when your fingers are cold and you’re trying to do things with gloves on! We got the tent up, found a tree to hang our food from little critters, and decided we were too tired to gather wood to make a fire. Before dinner, I took my GPS and headed out for a run, because I’m doing the #FebruaryChallenge, and having set a goal for myself of running a minimum of 1 km every day in February, I couldn’t let a little winter camping trip get in the way!

We were in the tent early the first night, and despite each having 2 one litre Nalgene bottles full of hot water, I was cold and didn’t sleep well – it was around -17 degrees Celsius overnight. Cheryl was fine, so I’ve come to the conclusion that I need a better winter sleeping bag. Mine is rated to -20C, but even with the addition of a fleece liner, it’s not enough.

We brought our winter boots (which we wore around camp) and our hiking boots (which we used with our snowshoes) into the tent at night, so that they didn’t get frosty overnight.

Day 2: Day hike along the waterfront of Provoking Lake West (1.5 km)

After breakfast I set aside our morning and afternoon snacks, and we put our carrot raisin peanut salad wraps into our coat pockets to thaw for lunch. We grabbed a sled and headed into the forest to find deadwood, so that we could have a fire that night. When we got back to our campsite, I found 2 Ziploc bags in the snow around a tree – definitely not where I left them. It was then that I realized I had left our morning and afternoon snacks on a tarp, an open invitation to hungry little critters to come enjoy a snack! While there were little holes in the bag holding our afternoon snack, the snacks themselves were edible, but one of two morning snack bags had disappeared, along with the big bag that had held it all. We looked for footprints, and decided that the thief must have been a pine marten! We went on a hunt, not really expecting to find our snack, but thinking we might find the empty bags. We followed fresh footprints, but they went everywhere, including into trees! We never did find the snack – thankfully, Cheryl shared her morning snack with me! I did, however, later see the pine marten jump from a tree onto the ground, in the area we had been searching!

Later we chopped our wood and broke it into little bits, preparing it for our evening fire.

 

In the afternoon, we went for a walk on our snowshoes along the waterfront, checking out some of the summer campsites. This was my second winter backcountry camping trip using my Tubb’s Women’s Elevate snowshoes and poles, which I got at Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville. They are awesome! We ended up back on the Highland Trail, where we ate our still frozen wraps – next time, we’ll need to heat them up a bit at breakfast!

The snow on the trees was very pretty that day, but the sun was melting it and it was falling on us over and over again! Not so nice down the back of your neck though…

Back at our campsite I decided to try out my homemade tin can stove, and with it I successfully made “hot” chocolate (field test of the stove here!).

dsc06256
Sunset on Provoking Lake West

 

At some point, I also ran for a set amount of time (equivalent to a 1 km run), in loops around and around or campsite.

During dinner I looked up and saw a pretty pink sky. I quickly headed for the shore, and the sky got even prettier. Later we successfully made a fire, and enjoyed a snack with Baileys. It wasn’t as cold that night, and while I was cold at the beginning, I warmed up and slept quite well!

Day 3: Day hike along the Highland Trail to Provoking Lake East (5.5 km)

After breakfast we decided to go for another snowshoe hike, this time along the Highland Trail toward Provoking Lake East. We wanted to check out the summer campsites. We had barely walked 300 m when we both realized we were seriously overdressed! In fact, the high that day was +10C, so we stopped on the trail and stripped off some layers! We could have hiked in shorts and t-shirts. The sun was knocking down what snow remained on tree branches. We had lunch at a beautiful campsite, sitting in the warm sun.

 

dsc06296dsc06340

 

After we returned to our campsite, I decided to do precisely what I wasn’t supposed to do (we only live once!) – toboggan in my very well marked “This is not a toy. This product has no steering or braking mechanism.” sled. Laughter ensued.

Again, I did a timed run, this time running a line back and forth, back and forth.

I also turned my homemade stove into a stick stove, and attempted to boil water. I did melt a full pot of snow, and it did start to warm up, but I lost interest (and patience) in continually feeding the sticks into it. There were more interesting things to do, such as build a snowman! After dinner, we had another fire, and burned most of the wood we had gathered.

It was so warm in the tent, that we had to strip layers off in the night!

dscn2848

Day 4: Provoking Lake West to Mew Lake (3.4 km)

We packed up everything inside the tent and started heating water for breakfast while we continued packing as much as we could. We met quite a few people on the way out, more so as we got closer to Mew Lake.

We even ran into Camper Christina and Outdoors Jen, who were camping at Mew Lake for the weekend as part of Winter in the Wild.

Version 2
Photo courtesy of Jen W.!

In the last stretch before reaching Mew Lake, I fed chickadees out of my hand. Back at Mew Lake, I ran 1 km within the campground!

dscn2884

It was a fun trip, despite the wild swings in weather. We were very fortunate to have gone last week, because while the snow was melting and shrinking and falling off tree branches, there was still snow! This weekend, with temperatures in the mid-teens in south-western Ontario, things may be messy at Algonquin!

If you’re wondering what we ate on our trip, breakfasts were hot cereals; lunches were wraps and homemade crackers, dehydrated hummus and dehydrated veggies; dinners were chile, minestrone soup, and spinach and quinoa soup; snacks were trail mix, granola bars, dried fruit, chocolate, and energy balls; and drinks were water, gatorade, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate.

I’m already looking forward to next winter’s trip!

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyrapaterson

Snowshoeing: Algonquin Outfitters guest post

Take a peek at my latest guest post on the Algonquin Outfitters blog – it’s about snowshoeing: backcountry camping by snowshoe, hiking, running, what to bring, and how to dress. It’s also got a little photo gallery!

img_8213
Breaking trails at Arrowhead Provincial Park

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyrapaterson

Race report: Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid Adventure Run 2017

Within a span of 5 minutes during the Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid Adventure Run, I narrowly avoided sliding off a cliff and into a valley, then nearly killed my teammate with a dead tree. Thankfully, we’re both still here to tell the tale!

In preparation for the race, Rebecca and I bought Atlas Run snowshoes, and practised running with them as many times as possible before the race. Sadly, with the amount of snow we’ve received so far this winter in south-western Ontario, that didn’t amount to many runs! However, we were undeterred. And we were hopeful that a couple of hours further north at Blue Mountain Resort near Collingwood, there would be enough snow for a snowshoe race!

In the days leading up to the race, the big question on everyone’s mind was “Snowshoes? Or shoes with spikes?” Neither of us owned spikes, so we hoped snowshoes would do the trick. Two days before the race, and after placing all the controls on the race course, the organizers recommended snowshoes, so we scrapped our plans to buy spikes at MEC in Barrie on our way to the race!

The night before the race we stayed at a great little motel in Wasaga Beach called Oasis by the Bay, which was one block from Georgian Bay. We sprayed our snowshoes with a silicone spray to prevent wet snow from clumping on the crampons, then headed to the beach for a test run. It ended up being a walk along the pretty, snow covered beach. Despite us snowshoeing on snow, our snowshoes were covered in sand! Check out the pretty trees we found in the sand.

On race morning, we made the 30 minute drive to Blue Mountain, forgot to spray our snowshoes again, picked up our race kits, and set ourselves up at a table to strategize and plan our route. We worked out compass bearings and marked up our maps. Next time, we’ll use a highlighter to mark our route. We’re still learning!

The format for this race was such that teams of 2 had 3 hours to find as many controls as we could, but we had to start with a 1 km climb up a mountain to find control #40 first. You know how when you go downhill skiing, you ride a chair lift to the top, then ski down? Well, we just climbed the mountain. At the start of the race. As a warm up.

Controls were worth different point values based on their difficulty: green (25 points), blue (50 points), black (75 points), double black (100 points), and ! (150 points).

img_8528
The race map included a legend (see at the very top – most of it is cut off) and a table with clues for where to find the controls, as well as point values.

However, for every minute over the allotted 3 hours, teams lost 30 points! Each time your team arrived at a control (teammates had to be 25 m apart at the most, with both touching each control), you put your timing chip into the timing machine and registered that you were there. However, there was a section on the map (the “matrix”) where you could separate from your teammate to find more controls, use a “paper punch” to punch your maps, then meet up, and later stop at the aid station to show your paper punches and get credit for those controls. Rebecca and I opted to stay together for the entire race. To make things even more interesting, 2 of the controls (36 and 37) wouldn’t be placed on the course until 12 PM, a full 1 1/2 hours into the race.

Our plan was to find controls 40 (green) and 41 (green), then enter the matrix and attempt to get all of the controls in there, though we hadn’t settled on a definitive order of things. So we’d be looking for 34 (blue), 35 (black diamond), 33 (blue), 32 (blue) and 31 (green). We were open to the possibility of going for 55 (blue) and 56 (double black diamond) outside of the matrix if we had the time (hilarious thinking about it now!). Finally, we would get 36 (green, in the matrix, but not there until 12 PM), and 3 others outside the matrix (37 (green), 42 (blue) and 43 (blue)) if possible on our way back to the finish line, which would be at the bottom of the mountain that we climbed at the start of the race. Oh how optimistic we were!

After the 9:45 AM pre-race briefing (during which we were told that if we wore snowshoes, we would probably wish we had worn spikes, and if we wore spikes, we’d probably wish we had worn snowshoes), we walked approximately 1 1/2 km to the race start.

img_8498
Rebecca and I at the start line.

We were in the 3rd wave, so when the last group of people started moving, we took that as our cue to start! (We couldn’t hear what was being said in the loudspeaker, and there was no horn to start the race.) It was the slowest race start ever, and quickly became a slow march up the mountain, with a bottle-neck at a stream crossing. However, we didn’t know until we got close what the hold up was. With some people in shoes and spikes, and others in snowshoes, there were various approaches to crossing the stream – 10 minutes into the race I really didn’t want soaking wet feet. We managed to get across it without trouble, and eventually the racers spread out. At one point, I heard a man say, “I didn’t sign up for heart attack hill!” It was a quad burner for sure. With the delay at the creek and the length of the hill, it took us 29:44 to reach the first control!

From that point onward, it was easy sailing. Ha! Not exactly. We overshot 41, so decided to skip it and get it on the way back. We easily found 38, which was in the deepest snow we found all race (15 cm? with a crusty top), then headed for the matrix. We didn’t have any trouble finding 34, and decided then to follow the ridge line to 33. It was further than we expected, but not hard to find. Next we headed for a black diamond, but we recognized that time wasn’t on our side, and if we didn’t find it quickly, we would have to head back to the finish line! We were walking more than running, and watching the clock closely! We hugged the creek and descended a steep hill, which also happened to be slippery and a bit icy. I had a good fall and bruised up my knee! We were using trees to brace ourselves as we descended. When we heard someone say that they couldn’t find it, we were doubtful that we would be able to, but we continued onward. We had to cross a flowing creek and ascend another hill to find the control, but first we had to find a safe, dry place to cross!  That meant adding distance, but we made it across and climbed the steep hill, which was partially snow covered, and partially mud covered! Remember, we were wearing snowshoes! We had to descend yet another steep hill (this was the only time that Rebecca and I split up – she waited at the top and planned our next steps), but I found it!

Back up the hill I went, and then we headed down the hill to find a marked snowshoe trail. It was at this point that I fell and slipped close to the edge of a cliff. I had been scouting out a route, but clearly that wasn’t the best one! A kind man gave me his hand and pulled me up and away from danger! We decided to descend further before crossing the valley, with Rebecca leading the way. It was at this point that I leaned on a (dead) tree and it gave way, heading directly in Rebecca’s direction. In those few seconds it took the tree to fall, I yelled “LOOK OUT!” and was certain it was going to hit her directly on the head and knock her down. I had visions of what would happen next. She was actually turned slightly to the side, so it looked to me like it hit her sunglasses (which were on top of her head), but no, it actually hit her on the head. She was not knocked down – or out – and while her head hurt, she wasn’t having any other concussion symptoms. Another racer, who was descending the hill behind me, said that the same thing had happened to her! Thankfully, Rebecca was fine and we continued on our way. PHEW. (As a side note, I highly recommend that all racers get certified in first aid and CPR! You never know when you might need it. The Canadian Red Cross and St. John Ambulance offer very affordable courses.)

Looking at our watches, we knew we had to head straight back to the finish line. We weren’t even sure that we would have time to stop at the aid station to get credit for our matrix controls! We reached a bridge and were momentarily uncertain which way to go, but went back the way we had come earlier in the race (through the forest). While it added hills, it was beautiful in the forest, and we were alone (sometimes in these races, this makes me nervous! Why did no one else go this way?)! Others seemed to head for control 31 and the road route to the aid station. We reached an intersection of trails, and turned right, but we soon started to feel that we had gone too far, so we were probably going the wrong way. We turned around, running back to the intersection to reassess, but before we could get there, Patrick – one of the Don’t Get Lost Adventure Running Kids instructors – came running toward us, going the way we originally thought we should go. He confirmed that he was heading for the aid station, and I said to Rebecca after he left, “That’s Patrick! He must know where he’s going!” So we followed him and of course, he was right.

We reached an intersection where we had to make a decision:

  • turn right, go to the aid station, get credit for our matrix controls, then head for the finish, adding time to finish and potentially losing more points in penalty, OR
  • turn left, don’t get credit for the controls we worked so hard to get, but potentially have fewer penalty points.

We chose to get credit at the aid station for our hard-earned, death defying points!! And in doing so, we also got control 36. We hoped that there would be no gear check, since we were so short on time (there was mandatory gear that individuals – and teams – had to carry, such as a first aid kit). Thankfully, all we had to do was put our timing chip in the 3 controls we found, and take off for the finish! We weren’t the only ones making this mad dash! Lots of teams were finishing at the same time. I was pretty thirsty in this last bit, and though I was wearing a camelbak, I didn’t want to slow down by fumbling with a mouthpiece! Thankfully, I’d been drinking Nuun and water and had eaten a granola bar during the race, so I was fairly well fueled!

Unfortunately, we still had about 2 km to run to our destination! We did a run/walk combo, with my cardio failing! Rebecca led and tried to keep me going, but I couldn’t manage a steady run. We knew that when we hit control 40, it was all downhill from there – a steep, slippery downhill!

16299712_850175538457280_8839106016489472836_o
Based on the look on my face, I think this picture was taken as we were racing against the clock trying to get back to the finish line within the 3 hour time limit!

Rebecca led the way, as we braced ourselves on (heathy!) trees, being careful of the hikers coming up the hill, and some of the crazy racers going full speed down the hill (saying “on your left!” or “on your right!” would have been helpful – and far less dangerous). One guy almost slid right into me. At one point, Rebecca decided to slide down the hill on her bum, so she lifted her feet and off she went! I did the same, and it was fun, but wow, we got going fast at times and it was scary! My butt and hands froze (I wasn’t wearing gloves) so I eventually got up and walk/ran again. Next time, I might use my map bag as a toboggan! Rebecca was a little ahead of me the whole way down the hill, saying “Kyra?” and continuing on as soon as she heard me say, “I’m here!” We reached the stream crossing, and while it was congested (and patience wasn’t a virtue of at least one racer), it was much easier and faster to cross than at the start of the race. And from there, it was a short run to the finish! All told, we covered about 9.6 km, according to Rebecca’s watch.

We had such fun!! And for the record, we didn’t regret wearing our snowshoes for one second! I can’t wait to do this race again next year – hopefully with lots more snow!

If you’ve never done an orienteering race, or you don’t know how to use a map and compass, don’t worry, it’s easy to learn!! Try it out, you won’t regret it. As my new friend Mauro said after the race (we met during a race, and became unofficial teammates), “…these races make me feel like I am 10 yrs old again. So much fun. I am in hook, line and sinker….”

img_8502
Just past the finish line!

Can’t wait for the next race! (The bump on Rebecca’s head should have healed by then!)

Race Results for Team DEFINE “LOST”

Time: 3:07:00

Points earned: 275 (we found 7 controls: 25 points for control 40, 25 for 38, 25 for 36, 50 for 33, 50 for 34, 75 for 35, 25 for 37)

Points lost: 210 (30 points for every minute over the allowed 3 hours)

Final points: 65

Placing: 16/21 female teams, 93/124 all teams

img_8506
With my medal presented to me by one of my biggest fans.

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyrapaterson

Snowshoeing at Arrowhead Provincial Park

When I set out to snowshoe at Arrowhead Provincial Park, I had no idea I’d be blazing the trails for the 2016-2017 season!

After a quick stop at Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville, Ontario, where I purchased my Atlas Run snowshoes and was taught how to put them on and securely fasten them, I headed for the closest provincial park, which was just 10 minutes away. I wanted to try them out as soon as possible, and since we didn’t yet have any snow at home, this was my best option.

The park had just opened for the winter season the day before, and when I arrived early on a Saturday morning, there weren’t too many people around. I stopped at the park office, paid $17 for a vehicle permit for the day, and picked up the free “Arrowhead Winter 2016-2017” guide. The Ontario Parks employee showed me the snowshoe trails, and I made the decision to head for the Hemlock Ridge and Stubb’s Falls Loop.

I parked at the Mayflower Warm-Up parking lot, and took a few minutes getting all organized – it was -12 degrees Celsius, so I needed to make sure I was wearing enough layers, but not too many that I would sweat and then get cold. I wore my trail running shoes with my running snowshoes (narrower and lighter than more traditional snowshoes, such as my Tubb’s Women’s Elevate snowshoes, which are perfect for backcountry camping in the winter and pulling a sled loaded with gear). And I put on my new gaiters, which I had never worn before and couldn’t figure out how to tighten at the top around my calf.

img_8239

I had a little trouble finding the start of the trail, but there was an Ontario Parks employee accessing a room in the building that housed heated washrooms, so I asked him and he pointed to the start being behind the wood shed, which was fenced off. Apparently not a lot of thought was given to the fencing in, as the trailhead was completely obstructed.

img_8238
Follow the fence along the right side of the wood shed, and you’ll eventually see a snowshoe attached to a tree – that’s the start of the Hemlock Ridge trail!

img_8213

I had to climb up and over a pile of snow dumped by snow plows, but then I was on my way! The park employee had warned me that no one had been on the trail yet (read: good luck! it will be tough going!). It was most definitely tough slogging at times, as I attempted to run through the forest! At times I had to walk because it was too steep or I wasn’t sure what was underfoot (e.g. a big rock). And then after just .77 km, I was exhausted! This snowshoe running business is hard work – in particular when you’re blazing the trail through a foot of untouched snow! I had to follow the red blazes on the trees to figure out which way the trail went. At one point, I couldn’t see any markers, but did see animal tracks, so I followed them, and sure enough, the animal was right!

img_8219

When the trail got close to the main park road, I spotted a couple walking along the road and waited for them to approach so that I could ask them to take my picture. They were from Stratford, and unfortunately I can only remember Ken’s name!

img_8228
Photo by a nice hiker from Stratford!

From there I joined the Stubb’s Falls Loop, which had been walked on by people in boots, thus making it a bit easier to travel on. I continued running and other than the odd person I saw, I was alone and it was very peaceful. I spotted lots of bunny prints in the snow. By the time I reached Stubb’s Falls, a very pretty spot, my phone had become so cold that it shut off and wouldn’t turn on. Sadly, I couldn’t get a picture of the falls! There was also evidence of an otter there – a slide on one bank of the creek. I crossed the creek and climbed up a set of stairs (not easy to do in snowshoes), and had trouble finding the trail – I found the cross country ski trail, but there were signs saying no walking, no snowshoeing. Did other people listen? No. But I searched for the snowshoe trail, and eventually found it – along a campground road. By this point I was doing more of a run/walk combo – I was getting tired.

When I reached the Hemlock Ridge trail again, I think I walked more than I ran for the last 700 m – it was mostly uphill!

img_8232

Within 10m of the car, I fell for the first time! My tired legs tripped on a stick. In the end, I travelled around 5 km, which is pretty good for a first time on running snowshoes!

There was a huge amount of snow in my gaiters, but I’ve since learned how to cinch them tight! And my feet got wet in my trail running shoes. Next time, I’ll try wearing cycling foot covers and merino wool socks. My feet were not cold while I was running/walking, but had I stopped for any significant amount of time, they would have become unpleasant.

If you’ve never been to Arrowhead, you might not know that they also have a 1.3 km skating loop through the forest, a tubing hill, and lots of cross country ski trails. You can rent skis, snowshoes and ice skates at Arrowhead!

I had a great day and can’t wait to try my snowshoes out again!

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyrapaterson

1st Time Winter Camping: Mew Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park, February 20-23, 2015

Sleep in a tent during an extreme cold weather alert? Why not?!

Shortcut to the full slide show: 

https://plus.google.com/photos/100072489463896099913/albums/6119791596424945009?authkey=CJuL1amTxebj6wE

I started seriously considering winter camping last fall, and it wasn’t long before my friend Cheryl and I had picked a date and started planning our trip. We agreed that we wouldn’t go if a snowstorm was in the forecast, but hadn’t discussed the temperature at which proceeding with our trip as planned bordered on the ridiculous. Despite Friday’s forecasted high of -17 degrees Celsius (feeling like -29 with the windchill), we headed north, for Mew Lake at Algonquin Provincial Park. List-makers and super-planners that we are, we were still surprised by some of the weekend’s happenings…

Friday – Day 1

After picking up Cheryl at around 7 AM, loading her stuff into the van, and stopping for hot drinks at Tim’s in Waterdown, it was clear sailing until just before Barrie, when the “check engine”, “TRAC OFF” and “VSC” lights went on in my van. This necessitated a short detour to the Barrie Toyota, where we were greeted by a very enthusiastic service person with a clipboard who encouraged us to have coffee, hot chocolate, cookies, and a visit to the bathroom while we waited. This was no ordinary bathroom. In fact, in my opinion, far too much money was spent decorating it! And the TV seems a bit extreme. In any case, she wished us well in our camping adventures and said to us, “Don’t die!” One hour and $90 later, a false alarm was declared and we were on our way! Cheryl thought I was looking quite fashionable in my spandex running pants and hiking boots, but I had nothing on the woman in the waiting room with the huge fur hat. We were thinking it might come in handy in Algonquin…

IMG_5099
At Barrie Toyota

After stopping at the Huntsville Tim’s parking lot to eat our packed lunches, we filled up the gas tank at the junction of Highways 60 and 35, and arrived at the West Gate of Algonquin (km 0) around 12:45 PM to get a camping permit. We learned that there were “a few people” camping there already. After another few minutes of driving, we arrived at the Mew Lake campground (km 30), the only one open for winter camping. We had a bit of trouble finding our way to the actual campsites, ending up at the wood lot instead, so we grabbed a bag of wood ($6.50) and a bag of kindling ($4.50) from the small wood shed, dropping our money in a little metal honour-system payment box. We drove past 4 yurts (heated permanent tent structures with bunk beds) that all seemed occupied (one even had a “hot tent” set up beside it – a tent with a stove in it with an exhaust pipe), and when we reached sites 83-94, right on Mew Lake, we checked them all out before choosing the one right across from the vault (no flush) toilets (site #90). There were a couple of other tents set up in these sites – we weren’t the only crazy ones! The comfort station (which we soon learned was the warmest place in the campground) was about 650 m away, was heated, had flush toilets, warm running water, a shower (which we did not use), and a laundry room with washers, dryers and a laundry tub. Right next to it was a skating rink with hockey nets, sticks and pucks and a campfire nearby. We didn’t see anyone use the rink, but they did flood it regularly and it seemed to be in good shape. Not too far from the comfort station, a quinzee had been built in one of the sites – I never did remember to crawl inside it!

Within about an hour of our arrival, we were greeted by a pine marten in the snow bank between the men’s and women’s toilets. It didn’t stay long but was quite cute. We set up Cheryl’s winter tent, and put our sleeping pads, sleeping bags, pillows, and blankets in as well.

DSC09115
Tent pegs + frozen ground = a challenge

Did I mention it was cold? Putting up a tent while wearing big mittens is not easy. My hands were too cold to just wear fleece gloves, but I had to keep removing my mittens and expose my flesh to snap things together. It was also challenging putting the tent pegs in, but we managed. For at least one Cheryl attached a rope to the fly and pegged it down away from the tent where we could actually get the peg into the ground. We opted not to set up a tarp (to cover a cooking area), but we did bury a 10 L water bottle in a snowbank, because Cheryl had read that the snow would insulate the water and keep it liquid. We put another bottle in the van, and one in the laundry room. Any thoughts on what happened?

Our feet got pretty cold on Friday when we weren’t moving around. Over the weekend I changed my socks frequently (when they felt damp) and occasionally used foot warmers. I once tried to wear 2 pairs of socks, but no kidding it took about 5 minutes per boot to get my foot in them (and by that time, I was sweating buckets on top!).

We decided to go for a hike, so we headed from our campsite toward the Old Railway Multi-use Trail, which is a 16 km trail from Cache Lake to Rock Lake. We hadn’t been walking long when I spotted a Gray Jay in the trees, so I pulled out some bird seed and we attempted to feed the birds from our hands. They weren’t biting, but once we threw the seed down onto the ground, two birds were all over it. We walked along the old Mew Lake airfield, enjoying a delicious trail mix as we went (I ended up just pouring it into my mouth so that I didn’t get my fleece gloves wet – and me cold – when I stuck the food into my mouth!), and when we reached the Old Railway trail we headed East. We retraced our steps and headed back to our campsite, walking about 5 k in all.

DSC09124
Gray Jay

Cheryl used her axe to chop some of the wood into smaller pieces (even the kindling), and we decided that we’d need more kindling so I drove off to get another couple of bags. We built our campfire and discovered that not only was there snow on the wood, but some of it was frozen together and other pieces had thick ice chunks on it. Not exactly ideal for building a fire! We eventually got a good fire going, and managed to heat up the frozen minestrone soup that I had made at home, and toasted our homemade cornbread too. We also boiled water to put in Nalgene bottles to have in our sleeping bags overnight. It was so cold out though that we ate our dinner in the van (which was marginally warmer – we didn’t turn the engine on)!

DSC09139
Building dinner fire

It was dark by this time, and with a clear sky, the stars were beautiful. The moon was very cool too, just a tiny sliver but the entire moon was still visible.

We gathered our dirty dishes, our washing tub, dish soap and cloth, and made the 650 m trek to the laundry room to fill our tub with warm water. You’re not supposed to do dishes in the sink, and in summer I would never do my dishes there (food could clog the drain), but we did our dishes in our tub and dumped the “grey” water in the toilet next door. Those few minutes in the laundry room allowed us to warm up! We headed back to our site, grabbed all our clothes (mine in my big red bag and Cheryl’s in her barbie tub!) and headed back to the comfort station! We decided we’d rather change there – in the warmth – than in the tent! We knew that we needed to remove all our clothes and change completely to avoid going to bed in anything that might be damp and therefore cold!

To keep our cameras, GPS’s, and batteries warm (and my contact lenses safe in their cases), we put them in bags and slept with them in our sleeping bags! Ever cuddle a camera before? As well, I put the liners of my boots in a cloth bag in my sleeping bag, so that they wouldn’t get frosty! When we got into the tent and finally into our sleeping bags with all our stuff (including our hot water bottles!), I was warm at first. I was wearing 1 pair of socks, 2 long john bottoms, 1 fleece pajama bottom, 2 rain pant bottoms (accidental – I meant to take them off!), 1 long john top, 1 merino wool top, 1 fleece pajama top, 2 fleece sweaters, and 1 winter hat and 1 pair of fleece gloves! I had one blanket under my Thermarest, and 4 on top of me. My sleeping bag is rated to -20 degrees Celsius, and I had an extra fleece liner in it that I made. Despite all this (it’s a wonder I fit in the bag), it wasn’t long before I was feeling cold. From the waist down I was warm, but my upper body was cold. Not so cold that I was shivering, but I wasn’t comfortable, and I was having trouble falling asleep. With Cheryl telling me not to fall asleep if I was cold, and our Toyota friend telling us not to die, it’s no wonder I lay there forever, trying to fall asleep! In fact, I honestly felt like I did not sleep at all Friday night, but in the morning Cheryl said that she had heard a really loud noise in the night (maybe ice cracking?) and asked me if I heard it – I didn’t respond, so I must have been asleep!

Saturday – Day 2

In the early morning we could hear snow falling gently on the tent. I lay in my sleeping bag listening to birds singing. When my bladder was full to bursting, I convinced myself to get up. My boots were frosty in the tent, but not the liners I had slept with! There were a few cm’s of freshly fallen snow, making the trees very pretty. According to the van, the temperature was a balmy -13 degrees Celsius! We walked to the comfort station to change, where the day’s weather forecast was posted as a high of -8 – things were looking up!

It was amazing how fast our 2 L Nalgene bottles full of gatorade started to freeze. By the time breakfast was done, I was drinking slushy liquid.

We tried to use Cheryl’s MSR Dragonfly stove, but it wouldn’t work. The white gas was still liquid (not frozen!) but for some reason we couldn’t get it into the pump, and therefore we couldn’t cook with it. We had brought mine as well, but had the same problem. We’ll be doing some research on using them in winter! So, we ate the dehydrated bananas that we didn’t eat the night before, and we built a fire to cook our awesome oatmeal with nuts and dehydrated fruit. It was 10:30 AM before we ate! We also had tea, and while standing and drinking mine, something flew at my head and landed on it – I yelled “ah!” or something like that and proceeded to shake tea all over my coat! I realized when it flew away that it was just a Chicadee, either thinking I was a tree or looking for me to feed it!

We checked the water jug in the van and it was frozen, but the water in the snow bank was still liquid!

We walked to the comfort station to do our dishes (saw that our water jug was still there), and then got ourselves organized to go snowshoeing (Cheryl has her own but I was borrowing my mom’s). We headed for the trail head, which was next to the big garbage bins on the way to the comfort station. There we found a woman with a camera, a very big lens, and a tripod. She was taking pictures of something in the trees. Turns out it was a pine marten, which she said often went into the garbage bin to get food (and sometimes nap!).

DSC09167
Pine marten

It was adorable. And very hard to photograph, because it jumped from branch to branch and moved so quickly! We chatted with Erika for a while and watched the pine marten, hoping it would come out of the tree and onto the snow to get a better shot. It did eventually, but my pictures didn’t improve!

We headed along the same trail as Friday, but turned onto the Track and Tower trail on our way to the Highland Trail. We encountered some Chicadees who were happy to eat sunflower seeds from our hands. The Highland Trail was meandering and beautiful. I had a déja vu moment and realized that the part of the trail we were walking was the same part I walked with my dad in the fading October light a few years ago when we camped at Mew Lake at Thanksgiving with my parents – Alasdair had gone for a long run and overestimated how far he could go in the daylight remaining – when it got late and dark we went searching for him and were very relieved to find him (as he was to see us)! Cheryl and I are hoping to do a backcountry hiking trip on this trail in the fall. We passed one tent along the trail, with 2 sleds that would have been used to pull gear. No one was there. Later we encountered 2 men snowshoeing in the other direction and learned it was their site (you can backcountry camp anywhere in Algonquin in the winter except on summer camping sites – backcountry camping is a different rate/night than car camping at Mew Lake), and they showed us pictures of a lookout further up the trail, but we didn’t have enough time to make it there this time. We had our mud tortilla wraps for lunch, and then turned around to head back. When we reached a steep hill we had climbed earlier, I decided it would be fun to slide down it on my bum rather than potentially slip on the snowshoes. It was great fun! Later we met the 2 guys at their campsite and asked them to take our picture.

DSCF7341
Going down hill the fun way

DSC09188
Our backcountry friend took some nice shots!

The weather was quite pleasant for our snowshoeing trek – it was probably -8, with lightly falling snow at times. All told we walked about 7 k.

When we got back to our campsite we drove 10 minutes to the Visitor Centre (km 45), which Cheryl had never been to. We had a hot chocolate and briefly looked through the gift shop and museum, but we were pretty tired from our sleepless night! We headed back to Mew Lake, bought more kindling, and headed back to our campsite. Sadly, I discovered that I must have left my green fleece hat behind at the Visitor Centre! I had 2 other hats with me though, so it wasn’t a disaster (just disappointing!). Before making our fire for dinner, we talked for a while to Jane, our neighbour, a woman (50s?) who was camping on her own for a week. She had taken some survival courses and had all kinds of tips for us.

Dinner was chili and cornbread, with Baileys, Reeces Pieces and banana chips for dessert. We could actually sit and enjoy our fire for a while, because it wasn’t freezing cold out! We heated water for our Nalgene bottles and put them in our coats until bed – very nice body warmers! We buried the water jug that had been in the laundry room.

We walked to the comfort station to do dishes, and I watched 2 pine martens chase each other in the trees for a while. Different people were there with huge lenses and flashes taking tons of pictures. We returned to the comfort station to change, where I realized that I had lost a sock – one of two that I had stuffed in my coat. We walked back to our campsite with a headlamp on (we had been walking in the dark until this point) and found it – back at the tent door! Saturday night we both slept much better – I was warm!

Sunday – Day 3

At 6:30 AM I got out of the tent for a quick trip to the toilet – I had the clever idea the night before to put my hiking boots (not winter boots) at the tent door, so I didn’t have to get my boot liners out of my sleeping bag to get up to pee in the night! I went back to sleep and we got up around 8:30. Our half filled water bottle (the one from the laundry room) was quite slushy when I dug it out – maybe we didn’t bury it enough? Cheryl tried her stove again but it still didn’t work. So, we built a fire with the wood Cheryl had prepared the night before. Our fire was slow – painfully slow – in getting going. We ate banana chips and leftover Reeces Pieces, and drank our gatorade while we waited! I even got an ice cream headache from one particularly cold gulp. Eventually the water boiled and we were able to rehydrate our fruit and add some water to our granola/milk powder mix. It was scrumptious, though we had a record late breakfast at 10:45 AM! This time, I was prepared for birds landing on my head while I drank my tea! As we were finishing our breakfast a couple walked by and we talked to them for a bit – they had intended to backcountry camp with a friend, but he bailed and they wimped out, so they car camped instead.

We decided not to do our dishes and to just wash them at home. We packed up camp, and Cheryl noted that my front left tire looked like it was bulging from low pressure. We agreed that we’d fill it up at the first opportunity. We talked to Jane again, who told us that the plank salmon she’d cooked for dinner the night before didn’t quite go as planned – the plank caught fire!

We left Mew Lake and headed for the Mizzy Lake trail (km 15), which we intended to snowshoe before driving back home. There was only 1 car in the parking lot. We knew we didn’t have time to walk the entire 11 k loop, so we planned to walk for a while and then turn around. The trail was another beautiful one.

DSC09239
Mizzy Lake

We followed boot prints for a while, but eventually met the couple after they turned around and then we were walking in newly fallen snow. We didn’t see or hear a single live creature in the woods (though we did see various animal tracks) until we were on our way back – maybe even mostly back – when I heard and saw… a bird. We started looking for a log to sit on to have our lunch, and almost immediately discovered a bench along a boardwalk on Mizzy Lake. We had to clear the snow off of it, and lower ourselves down to it to sit because of the amount of snow on the ground, but it gave us a great view – of trees and snow falling – no animals!

DSCF7357
Mizzy Lake

After a quick stop at the Huntsville Tim’s, we were on our way home. And then, as we were driving south on Highway 11, we heard the womp womp womp of a flat tire!! Yes, we forgot to fill the tire. I steered the car into the merge lane, but couldn’t get off the road because of big snow banks. Twice I tried to move the van further to reach a driveway but didn’t want to damage the van any more. After calling Toyota roadside assistance, and deciding that it made more sense to be towed to the nearest Toyota dealership within 300 km, rather than have the spare tire put on (that can only be driven a short distance at low speeds, and wouldn’t get us home), we waited for the tow truck driver to arrive. We were closer to live traffic than we would have liked! Within an hour Chris from Gravenhurst Towing showed up, and Cheryl and I agreed that tow truck drivers don’t get paid enough!

DSC09248
Not exactly how I envisioned the return drive

He had to park his truck partly in the live traffic, and was walking in harm’s way. He came to check whether the U hook on the front of our van was factory installed and therefore okay to tow the van up the flatbed truck with. I told him that we had it welded on to hold our canoe (40 lbs, not the weight of a van!) so he decided to attach elsewhere! He towed us about 20-30 minutes to Sunrise Toyota in Orillia, which of course was closed on a Sunday. Chris was great though, waiting to make sure we had a taxi coming before he left us, and making sure we knew to check the key slot to see that our key envelope was actually deposited correctly. I told him I’d be writing a trip report on my blog, so what would he like to say? He said he didn’t know, that he didn’t really know what a blog was. 🙂 In any case, THANK YOU Chris and Gravenhurst Towing!! We got a taxi to the Highwayman Inn, bringing our clothes, cameras and other valuables with us – including our extra food we had packed, some of which we ate for dinner (told you we are planners!).

Monday – Day 4

I called Toyota at 7:30 AM, as soon as the service department opened. I pleaded our case – that we had been winter camping in a tent and were stranded at a hotel. I was told that as soon as “his bodies” were in, they would look to see what the van needed. Leonard from Toyota called during breakfast to tell me that yes, I needed a new tire! Unfortunately, they didn’t have any, and their tire delivery guy wouldn’t do his rounds until 1 or 3 or even later. He said he’d call if they found a tire from a neighbouring business. While waiting for Toyota to call, I wrote my trip report! I started doubting whether we’d get home that day, given that I still hadn’t heard anything after 11 AM. But around 11:30, Leonard called to say that he had driven to Barrie Toyota to pick up a tire (THANK YOU LEONARD!) and that the van was almost done. PHEW! The Toyota shuttle came to get us, and we were on our way home at 12:15 PM. We rolled into Waterdown just after 2 PM.

IMG_5108
Sign at school upon our return

This weekend I learned 5 ways to warm up in frigid temperatures: 1. wear 2 thick pairs of socks and attempt to squeeze feet into boots, 2. snowshoe up a steep hill, 3. attempt to squish a snowy tent into its factory issued bag, 4. drive long enough for the van engine to warm up, and 5. go to the comfort station!

Despite the rocky start and ending to our weekend, we had a fantastic time and will definitely go winter camping again – and eventually, in the backcountry too. We need to master operating our stoves in the winter, first!