Brace yourself. It's gonna be a long one.
Wilderness Traverse has been on my bucket list since it started 4 years ago but I was always either teamless or injured or committed to something else. This race has a reputation for being tough. I wasn’t worried about finishing, I have great faith in the abilities of my Attack from Above teammates – Mj, Double_Downon11 and escondido - and I can keep moving. It was the time cutoffs which concerned me the most.
Mj and I left downtown mid-afternoon and picked up Bats on the way as she was going to be one of the three awesome HQ volunteers. Amazingly we made it to the HQ with plenty of time to spare for checking in and getting organized before the race briefing. Once we had the maps we did a quick overall review, some questions were asked then back to the hotel to pack the bins and analyze the maps in more detail. We managed to wrap everything up around midnight. Not bad. I made a point of sleeping with ear plugs so I missed all the 5:30-6am door slamming which apparently woke the rest of the team earlier than planned.
At 7:30, after dropping off our bins and parking our cars, we rode our bikes to the start which was about 3k from the finish on a well groomed gravel road. I always dread the bike section – particularly Bob’s bike sections - and bike starts can be really messy but this was a fantastic start. First of all I was really glad to be starting on the bike because, although I now have fancy lights, I figure I’d be really slow racing on trail in the dark. Second, even when the road turned into trail it turned into a wide trail which allowed for lots of passing so there was plenty of time for teams to separate before the riding got really technical.
In general the only bits I found beyond my biking ability were the really forested and swampy stuff. I got off in one mud patch, sunk to my knee, and came out minus one shoe. I contemplated whether I could continue without the shoe but quickly realized that was the crazy in me talking. So I took a few minutes to dig around and try to yank it out of the sucking mud. After that I was MUCH more careful crossing muddy sections.
In general the riding was much more dry & dusty hydro line and logging trails then swamp so it was easier to go faster. The trails were a mix very rocky with quick up/downs or lots of sticks with some quick up/down. At one point somewhere on the hydro line, things got really rocky. My team was pretty far ahead and I was plowing forward to catch up. I realized with some degree of pleasure that I was doing a decent job of picking lines. There were hardly any points where I would look ahead and not know what part of the trail I needed to hit. Up ahead I notice a drop. A big drop. I did a quick assessment and decided the left side was a little less far down. I thought to myself, “well if the guys did it...” and I went for it. Honest to god I’ve never done a rock drop before and I was SO proud of myself! I drop my butt WAY back and over the boulder I went. My front tire hit and almost stopped, I felt my back tire lift into an endo but just managed to eek the front tire forward enough to keep moving. Oh the elation! I wish SOMEONE had been there to see it. Then in my peripheral vision I saw someone riding. Looking beside me was this really nice smooth dirt trail. Turns out I was paralleling the actual trail. I must have veered off at a Y-junction at some point and was riding in the ditch. Points for technical prowess, minus several thousand for not paying enough attention.
Better riders probably work momentum more but I was using my gears a lot and found my right wrist starting to hurt. In particular my lower switch was really stiff so I had to really press to lower the tension with any climbs. After about 4-5 hours I knew I was in trouble and mentioned it to the team. This was the hardest part for me. I had a combination of things going through my head: “Am I just complaining? Will they be mad? How bad is it really?” All these thoughts were making matters even worse. I was so worked up worrying about what everyone was going to think that I actually started having trouble breathing while riding. It’s what happens when I get emotional. It’s very unhelpful. Ok I’ll say it. I was trying not to cry. I wasn’t worried about having to drop out. I just knew I was slowing everyone and I really don’t want to be “the complainer”. Once I had told them and we worked out a plan to get my wrist taped at the next CP I was able to calm down and just ride. It hurt but I could deal with the hurt once everyone was ok with it and the fact that I couldn’t really use my rear rings anymore. I just left my small gears low and rode the small and middle rings in the front. Because I’m not a super strong rider it meant I got off and walked if things got too technical/had too much climb. On the plus side the walking bits were opportunities to eat since it was near impossible for me to eat anything while riding.
There was a medic at the next CP who did an awesome job taping my wrist. It felt like he was cutting the circulation off but in fact the tension was just right and was a huge help for the rest of the race to have my wrist supported. Race medics are the bomb!
The rest of the ride was uneventful as far as AR riding goes. We stopped to fill our bottles. There were some more rocks and sticks. Stuff like that.
Rolling into the first TA I told Dwayne (DD’s dad who was volunteering) to just throw my bike in the lake. The ride had been crazy bumpy and had done a number on me. My wrist was pooched and I had chaffed away my lady bits but otherwise I was ok but very happy to be off the bike.
The TA was staffed by fantastic happy and energetic volunteers who brought the racers ice cream cones and freezies. While I’d actually been fantasizing about ice cream on the course my jaw dropped at the idea of a freezie so that’s what I took. Man alive that was good.
We changed into our trekking gear, refilled our bottles and bladders, ate/drank what we could and headed out. After the crazy slow swims at Angry Seagull, Mj and I invested in these: http://www.darkfingloves.com
. It was a good call. While we only had one short crossing right at the start of the trek it definitely went faster and the gloves are very packable. The only caveat is they are hell to get on while dry unless you have baby powder handy.
The nav and trekking went really well for CP 4 & 5. Whenever we got onto trail I got on tow to keep up with the 3 sets of long legs I was racing with. CP4 was this race’s party CP. I knew something was up when we could hear people shouting into the woods, “CP OVER HERE!!!” What we thought were inappropriately enthusiastic volunteers were actually a bunch of drunk campers who happened to be camping at the same site as the race volunteers. I don’t actually like the taste of beer but when one of the campers handed me a can I just thought “ok – this is carbs and liquid” so I took a couple of swigs and passed it to escondido. It was unfortunately Coors Light so not as carby as I would have liked but anything is good if it will go in and stay in.
Heading to CP5 we came across moose remains. Well, only the skull was left. I was pretty impressed. Definitely more interesting than a sheep skull in Taylor Creek but it wouldn’t fit in my pack so we took some photos and left it for nature do to its thing. We also found our way to a narrow water crossing to avoid a massive walk around or long swim. The other side was one of the most beautiful campsites I’ve ever seen! Would love to go back there and actually camp sometime. We took a few more photos and moved along as the sun was starting to get low.
On the approach to CP5, I was ruminating over what food I had in my pack and what I was going to force myself to eat. My stomach was ready to call it a night but I needed something and there wasn’t anything I had that I actually wanted to eat. I was steeling myself for the task when Bent (volunteering at the CP) came over with a plate of cheese and crackers and I swear I almost fell over with joy. It was EXACTLY the right thing and I started wolfing down as much as he’d let me take – which was a lot. Bless you Bent!!
From CP5 we headed out and made our way long the edge of the lake in the dark to a shallow crossing then up into the woods. Crossing over the ridge we descended a cliff on the other side. Getting down the cliff in the dark was a little tricky. It’s fun sitting at the top looking down and seeing only tree tops directly below. There was some exploring to find a safe(ish) route down. For me, I was still mostly one handed so I was a wee bit nervous. The guys were good about scouting and guiding me though so all went well. At the bottom was our shallow (neck high on me) water crossing to get to the south side of Little Wilson Lake. Using backcountry maps during our planning, we’d worked out a route which would take us to a minor trail system rather than bushwhacking the entire way to the larger C trail. We did find the trail, jumped on and headed briskly forward. While not a bad idea in theory, we should have planned an escape in case the trails weren’t what we’d hope. As it was the trails weren’t what we’d hoped. We were going in the right direction just enough (seemingly) to keep us from giving up on them until we were a few hours in. Frustratingly, by the time we realized we weren’t getting where we wanted to fast enough there weren’t enough features around for us to determine where we had got to. We could have done a straight barring east until we hit water or road but we hung on, following pink ribbons, occasionally finding what we guessed were the footprints of other teams. There was some hope that with the hours of meandering we had come south a fair bit and were actually pretty close to CP6/TA2. But when we did finally hit the C trail it wasn’t looking good. Our fears were confirmed by Wilberto when he and his team Lather, Rinse, Repeat came wandering down C from a different direction. They had tried bushwhacking around the northern edge of the lake which had been equally or more frustrating than our scenic route trail system. It was great to see them though. We hadn’t seen anyone in hours so their smiling faces were very welcomed. After some healthy swearing, we all headed south on a death march to CP6/TA2. I got on tow again and we trotted/hiked as quickly as we could without getting sweaty as it was pretty chilly at this point and it was a hazard to get damp since we were going to be sitting in canoes (relatively) shortly.
On the driveway into the camp team Bugs in Teeth drove by us. Apparently they had had a lot of trouble too and ended up DQ’ing themselves by calling in for help. Despite this they were in great spirits and ready to call it a night.
The CP area itself was REALLY quiet. There was one other team there who were about ready to leave when we arrived. I put on as much clothing as I could, including borrowing rain pants from Escondido (note to self: bring pants next time!!) We had already decided that I wouldn’t be paddling because of my wrist so I was preparing for a very cold few hours. I ate what I could and almost kissed Amber when she gave me a slice of pizza she had in her bin. I polysporined the heck out of my chaffing (thanks to Simpy for that advice – it was BRILLIANT!) and opened an emergency blanket for the paddling. Then we found out we weren’t allowed to put 4 people in a boat and I would have to paddle after all. Ugh.
Anyone who knows me knows I love paddling but it wasn’t my best performance. I’d go for a bit then rest my hand then go then rest. The stretch between 4-6am is always the hardest for me and sitting in a boat not being able to work hard it was impossible not to keep nodding off. Poor Mj did most of the work for me. Good thing he’s a machine.
The first portage took us a bit of time to sort out but after that we didn’t have so much trouble finding our way. We chose the route through Birch Lake which seemed slightly more direct though with maybe a couple more portages. The route to Fox Lake was a bit of a mess though. The “open land” crossing required moving through some unpaddleable mud swamp sections. Mj and Escondido volunteered to push the boats through two short sections. DD and I stayed dry by staying in the boats on the first bit and walking through the bush on the second. I have to say though that the vegetation in this section was magical. Pitcher plants, lichen, cotton fluff plants (not their real name), white needled conifers of some kind, and all the soft moss was just amazing. All of this with the sun rising over the misty water and I was in heaven.
The sun was up by the time we his CP7 so we stripped off jackets and long stuff and headed out with team Kinetic Konnection hot on our heels. We’d passed them at the last portage and dug in to stay ahead. After two more portages it was open water to the CP8/TA3. I decided with only a run left to the finish that there was no reason to save my hand any longer. With KK making a charge from behind we picked up our pace. I managed to get some proper strokes going down Nine Mile Lake, picking up the pace as the TA got closer. I wanted enough distance from KK to give us a good head start on the run and we sprinted the last 500 meters. It felt good! My hand was screaming when we hit land but I was so happy to have pushed.
We transitioned as quickly as we could and I jumped onto a V tow with Mj and Escondido pulled and DD scouting the trail. We ran as much as we safely could (some of the terrain got a bit tricky for running on tow). Once we hit the highway we made our way quickly to the over pass and settled into a trot. The last 500m I let them know I could handle going faster so they moved to a run. Then, rounding the corner and seeing the finish, we all just sprinted. I love a strong finish and we did it!! (Aside from a very brief moment of confusion entering the driveway where we clothes lined Dwayne looking for the punch.)
What a fantastic race! Again, super impressed with my team! Good chemistry and teamwork, lots of skill and strength. I feel very lucky to have been able to do this race with them!
Summary - race:
A very well designed race course! Lots of route choice available. Much technical work required but not impossible. None of the disciplines were too long or too short (always happy for long paddles). The volunteers were wonderful which really adds to the mood of the course. The location for the race was perfect. Lots of variety of terrain to work with and super friendly locals (when we saw them which wasn’t often).
Summary – team:
Again – I think we worked well together. Mj did nav and conferred with Escondido and DD when required. There were never any disputes about route choices or roles.
Summary – me:
This one was emotionally tough for me. I’m disappointed that I injured myself so early in the game. I did better with hydration and food this time around so I managed the trek better than the last race. If I’m going to do more 24hr racing though I need to train harder on biking and find a way to contribute more to the effort of the team rather than just finding ways to be less of a burden. I don’t mean I expect to be stronger than my teammates or that I shouldn’t use some of their strength to move myself quicker but rather that I need to find a role where I can actually contribute the team’s performance somehow. Will have to think that one through...
Very happy to have done this and am happy with our results!
COURTESY OF DOUBLE-DOWNON11 (because I'm too lazy to work all this out myself):
Bike - ~90km (7:20)
Trek #1 - ~42 km (11:06)
Paddle/Portage ~35km (9:51)
Trek #2 - ~9 km (1:17)
CP #1 - 2:47 (15th)
CP #2 - 3:20 (18th)
CP #3 - 1:13 (11th)
Trek #1 -
CP #4 - 2:11 (10th)
CP #5 - 3:06 (18th)
CP #6 - 5:49 (22nd)
CP #7 - 5:39 (9th)
CP #8 - 2:12 (5th)
Trek #2 -
CP #9 - 1:17 (4th)