ADVENTURE RACING race 2:45:00 
WILDERNESS TRAVERSE 2015
24h of #BestDamnSport #BestHangout
Team #1 O-Store.ca
Liza Pye aka Slice
Alex Provost aka Jackson5
Benoit Letourneau aka BushwackerBen
Vincent Meunier aka VelomanVince
We set out to win the race again this year after taking a very satisfying victory last year. We knew the competition would be even tougher with Salomon, Pulling Foot, Running Free, Storm Boewolf, Canada AR and a few dark hoses all wanting our heads off. WT is the best race of the season because it’s now a family reunion. There is no better hangout.
It would be easy to just say we were not at the top of our game to explain our lack of luster for this 2015 edition of Wilderness Traverse but it would not be fair to the winners’ efforts and excellent execution. It’s anybody’s game. I can only be happy for the whole team and especially for my Equilibre teammate Jean-Yves Dionne, aka JYD - Junk Yard Dog, for getting his hands on a covered beaver as unfortunately we could not bring one back from Expedition Alaska.
We confirmed our presence last spring and where excited and confident going in as defending champions. We’ve been doing this for quite a while so we don’t need much communications to get things aligned so we more or less start talking about a race roughly 6 weeks in advance. Preparation went very well with all logistics in the weeks leading to the race and we got there in time with everything we needed. Luckily we had booked in advance for the exquisite pizza at the Orrville Bakery.
Liza, Benoit and I had to deal with a few bumps on the road leading to #WTRAV 2015. Liza broke her forearm and could not ride her bike for most of the summer. Benoit had a heavy ultra trail running season with Colorado’s Silver Heels 100m in August and Ultra Trail Harricana 125k 2 weeks before #WTRAV. As for myself, 2 road bike crash took a good shot at my general form and health, from which I’m just getting the better of as I’m in the final prep for the iconic Patagonia Expedition Race. At least we knew Vince would be on the top of things and as strong as ever, hammering the front spot of our riding train.
The race usually suits us very well and our confidence was legitimately very high. We even had former legendary team SRS member Alain Beaudry to cheer us! Racing in Ontario always reminds me of the classic FAR races and my AR debuts.
The race outline looked perfect for us as the crux of the race was clearly a night trek, certainly one of our speciality. We figured we should stay close to the fast teams at the start and slowly take teams one by one until night fall. So our master plan was quite simple:
2. Hit hard
3. Finish them
We started with a comfortable pace and as expected a few teams passed us a few minutes into the race. The first trek was a bit tricky because of the water level and we overshot CP3. But even if we got back to pick up our bikes a significant amount of time after the first team we were not too concerned. We had the best time of all teams on the next bike leading to the long canoe section. We were a bit scrappy at TA1 (having a small bin did not help) but we had gained back contact with Salomon and Canada AR and were looking forward to get in the boats.
Our plan was to canoewack through at some point on the way to CP6. The potential gain was considerable IF well executed. We knew we were in for a rough time getting the canoes across 800m of swampy land but it was part of our bigger plan to take risks during daylight and be in a good position for the night. At that point we had caught up with team Salomon as they were also clearly considering going through. They did not and we did. Somehow we got on the south side of the swamp and it proved to be very challenging terrain with lots of very thick alders. We realized this would hurt us quite a bit when we started to see other teams paddling on the other side and no offence but it was not the Salomon kind. We rallied on and got to the end of this paddling section in 10th place catching a few spots back. As we were paddling I was doing the maths and it started to occur to me that bar an unlikely mistake from our direct opponents it would certainly be a close fight until the end.
We set off on the trek with still a lot of daylight. Our momentum was far from optimal and we overshot CP10. We got really concerned when we learned that we were still about 35 minutes behind the leaders with not that many trekking kilometers left. Night fall was coming fast so we stayed motivated thinking it would play for our side but we clearly had to shift gear if we were to overtake the leaders at some point.
Finally, some good news at CP11 with Richard and Angus (and their cheese crackers) as we were now roughly 10 minutes behind Salomon. We were gaining back!
That was short lived as again we had difficulty to maintain speed and bearing and we got a bit of a hammer in the face when, still a fair bit away from the TA, we crossed Salomon as they were biking out onto the powerline trail. AR is AR and even if our faith held on a thread, it’s never over until the end, we had no other choice than raging out of TA3 to post the best time gaps on the bike even with an untimely bike light failure that cost us a few minutes close to CP13.
But ultimately, we ran out of race. We crossed the finish line 15 minutes after Salomon for 2nd place for the Beaver.
Looking back at our trace, it’s clear that canoewhacking and our way out of CP11 to CP12/TA3 were not optimal routes, hence the time gap at TA3. So our route choices cost us far more that our (lack of) foot speed as our bike sections went really well and our boat speed was good too (when paddling). But generally speaking it was not our best execution to say the least.
Congratulations to the winners and all teams for accepting Bob’s challenge. Thanks to all volunteers and to the best RDs duo on the market, Barb and Bob.
So it appears we are not unbeatable at #WTRAV. It’s inevitable in sport and that will surely motivate more teams to be ready to take a good shot at us in 2016. That’s awesome.
That said, Benoit, Liza and I all agreed we should make #WTRAV a major objective for 2016 and chances are we will be more ready than ever to try to get that beaver back.