Storm the Trent Trek Elite Race 2021

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

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

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

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

Foreshadowing course conditions?

Paddle to CP 20, 21, 22

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

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

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

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

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

Bike to CP 2

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

Run to CP 30, 31

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

Bike to CP 3, CP 4, CP 5

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

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

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

Run to CP 40, 42, 43

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

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

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

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

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

Bike to CP 6 and 7

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

Whee! A downhill!

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

Photo courtesy of Storm Racing.

CP 7 Optional advanced section

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

Bike to CP 53

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

Bike to finish

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

Done!

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

Our route!

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

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