AR Competition 2:26:00 
Wilderness Traverse - Orrville, Ontario
The original plan was to come home for vacation in August and put a team together for WT. Then, Bob moved the race to October and meanwhile, my days at Salomon HQ had become numbered as our move to Vancouver became official. So the August vacation turned into a French one and I set my sights on ARWC in the swamps of Brazil...what was I thinking? Back pedalling and later realizing that I might be able to bookend a WT weekend with two work trips and voila, all I needed was a team.
Angus took about 30 seconds to be in. He subsequently convinced Shannon to join us and I went to the junk yard to find a Dawg (aka. Jean-Yves Dionne...get it?...J.Y.D.). Then Angus decided that technical riding was extremely important to brush up on ... except that he 'brushed' up quite hard on a tree as he lost control of his Trek 29er in Albion Hills. A hospital and physio visit later, along with a heap of needles and drugs, he found out that his hopes to compete in Orrville were dashed as his knee was the size of FB's neck. Back to the AR well we went and while dredging for 'retirees', I pulled up Mike from Team Wild Rose...after a bout of waffling and 'maybe'ing. However, I knew he would say 'yes' and I just had to be patient while his engineering logic caught up with his passion for adventure. So Team Salomon was formed with an Albertan, a Quebecois, a Thornburian, et moi.
After getting the maps, it appeared that Bob copied yet another one of my theoretical racecourse designs - a Massassauga paddle/portage, the Sequin Trail and power line tracks south of Parry Sound, and some wicked trekking in the Moon River / Healy Lake wilderness. The biggest, and most important difference, is that he actually makes it happen!
The engines revved at the start line for the 3.5k trail run to our bikes and I groaned internally, realizing that my teammates consisted of a UTMB finisher, a guy who's been training like mad this year for Exp. Alaska, and a woman who's heels have never once touched the ground while running. My 93kg frame bounced along the track and I tried to look the part on this team fully knowing that I could fake a need for a 'nav check' at any point in order to catch my breath. We tried to be a bit clever by wearing our bike helmets and riding to CP1 along the Seguin Trail in our trail runners so as to minimize time during the discipline change at Tally-Ho Rd. It seemed to work and we set off with the lead group.
I haven't navigated on a 1:50,000 for quite a bit and I don't think I ever got used to how slow you move across the map throughout the race. There's not much to go off of in terms of map detail and given that the terrain was so flat, it was back to 'hold to the bearing for fear of thinking too much and getting lost'. Bob has said that he thinks that Ontario might be one of the more difficult places to navigate and I agree with him. As it was, we reached CP2 in 1st, a great morale boost for a newly formed team. The bush was incredibly clean and easy to move through. Had it been June or July, we would have been scratching the he77 out of our legs with raspberry bushes and being eaten by FDFs and mosquitos. A pack of us moved toward CP3 but upon post-race investigation, some teams got creative and ran back out to the Seguin Trail so as to attack from an easier spot. I never considered that and am always amazed with everyone's creativity in route choice. We hit an area that we felt was about 100m shy of the CP but the land was far too close to being what we expected to see. So, up, down, back, forth we went and finally realized what turned into an 18 minute bobble. Running back to the bikes after getting the CP, it was a bit discouraging to see so many teams already en route. But, O-Store wasn't one of them...phew!
Westward and now in 7th place, we biked into the archipelago of islands known as Massassauga Provincial Park. Bike to paddle typically makes for a slow TA but we prepared well and managed to get out of there and onto the water faster than most teams (all but Team MBR in fact!). Earlier, we had noticed how windy the off-shore breeze was as we biked along. I've been on the bay when the wind gets up and it can get bloody cold. So, we took the extra time to put on waterproof/breathable layers and I think it really paid off for us.
As decent a team as it seemed we were on foot and on bikes, we were a bit less than that in the boats. My weight differential didn't help and whomever I was paired with made for a massive battle with the wind. My arms and shoulders got so wrecked at one point that I collapsed into the boat when I leaned on them for support at a CP. Not good. We tried to take (what became) the infamous marshy short-cut but after sending Mike out to test the terrain and watching him sink immediately to his chest, we opted to paddle around instead. I have since seen that Team Pullin' Foot nailed that little section, saving valuable time, but Team O-Store was less fortunate and had to have worked so hard to push their way through the boggy mess.
By the end of the paddle, we were very cold, our arms/back/shoulders were fatigued, and our feet felt like lifeless clubs hanging from the ends of our legs. In fact, I hadn't eaten our drank enough and I wasn't entirely with it. I could see a bit of worry in Shannon's eyes when she barked orders at me to drain some Boost down my throat.
Now in 5th place, we set off onto the big trek with purpose. I liked our route choices as they seemed very simple and had darkness taken into consideration. O-Store was only minutes behind us so we were definitely running scared (on our frozen feet). It's such a stress but it certainly pushes you to keep moving as fast as you can. We pretty much made a straight line south to the Moon River where I wanted to use the high ground to make our way east to Moon Falls. Jean-Yves was such a force on this trek. I gave him our bearing, sent him out front, and I hung back to be able to scan the land and make slight nav adjustments on the fly. It worked very well, which was good because we were racing the impending darkness.
Once at Moon Falls, we set off for CP11, the crux of the race in our opinion. If we could nail it before dark, we were golden. If not...well...we had fear of wandering aimlessly in wet and complicated landscape while our competition forged ahead. O-Store got behind us here as Liza seemed to want to go back to a waterfall that a group of us camped at many years ago just up river. They corrected quickly but it gave us a bit of a buffer. Northeasterly we moved and nailed point after point that I wanted to hit. The intermittent lake that I had hoped we could wade through was a full on deep lake. At only 25m across, we could have gone for a swim but one look at Shannon's face at the prospect of that and we made a decision to alter our plan. She seemed to like that. It was difficult navigation in there because very little matched what I saw on the map. However, I knew roughly how far we had gone so we just had to keep moving. There were some quick dunks in between the floating bogs for the heavier ones on our team (eg. me) but we stayed mostly dry. As we got closer, we came upon the rookie team Warriors, the XC skiers from Stratford. They looked to be having a great time and didn't look as though they were as tired as I certainly felt. Watch out for this team in the future - you heard it here first.
We did hit Angus and Richard's CP11 before dark and were treated to a buffet of food and drink options...not to mention a heated tent to relax in. I went for some hot chocolate but Shannon all but smacked it out of my hand at the prospect of taking too much time before nightfall. Achieving this little nav objective felt good and all we had to do now was head SE to the Moon River again. After 2 km of bushing it, this became incredibly easy to do as we came across a very worn ATV track. Examining the map, I thought that there was only one place other than the Moon River that this track would go to. We ran on it for a while and were pretty much right on bearing still, so I all but put the compass away and focussed on keeping up with my gazelle-esque teammates.
Now in 3rd, we knew that O-Store couldn't be too far behind us. They're better riders than we are so the stress raised a little more. As we rode north along the powerline track, we saw their lights and they ran past us quite hard toward the TA in order to chase us down like dogs. Gulp. At least we had a 35 minute head start.
There were a few tricky bits of navigation on the bike and each time I made a bobble, I was sure that Team O-Store caught back up a little bit more. I even heard Quebecois voices a few times and was convinced that they went by at one point. I don't know who I (and 'we'...I wasn't hearing things!) heard but after checking the tracker, it couldn't have been them. The final bit of stress occured when a road that looked on the map to simply head north to the Sequin Trail, veered due east seamlessly. None of us saw the left hand turn and on we went until I looked down at my compass and gaped at what I saw. "Stop Stop Stop" I yelled frantically and after 1.3 km the wrong way, we turned around to right our direction of travel...right into a passing train. That's it, here comes Team O-Store for sure now.
Shannon became possessed and she lit up the Seguin Trail with 25 kph of cycling fury as she led the charge out front. I was dying and JYD pleaded at me to push to keep the pace hot. I just hadn't eaten and drank enough and was on empty. I have never been able to balance all of the duties that a navigator has to juggle - eat, drink, look at maps, look at land, tell team where we're going and wha to look for, keep up with team's pace, etc. I'll get there one of these years!
Cycling into the finish line, none of us really knew how it had turned out. Had O-Store gone by us somehow? After a couple of minutes of catching our breath, none of us spied Liza, Benoit, Vincent, or Alex around and we knew we had won the COED. Bob the Beaver was ours again...oh how I've missed you.
I had three great teammates for this one. Dawg was so strong and drove the pace relentlessly. Mike dug in, kept things positive, and helped to make the team efficient. Shannon ran me into the ground, made me laugh, and contributed to our cohesiveness. Not so bad for a throw-together team!
Hats off to Teams Pullin' Foot and Running Free for crushing the course and to O-Store for their relentless pursuit of the win. Class acts all around.
We're so lucky that Bob and Barb's crew put this event on year after year. It's not easy to do but they make it look so. 40 teams and what seemed like 50 volunteers is a huge accomplishment. Congratulations and thanks for treating all of us to such a fun weekend adventure.