multi sport race (wilderness traverse) 14:00:00  60.0 km (14:00 / km)
3 Loonies and a Greenback - all of us rookies - made an attempt at Wilderness Traverse. The morning was lovely, sunny, dry, fair winds, warm - it was looking like a Harps-happy sort of day. With eagerness and anticipation, 34 teams, 1/2 of them rookies, loaded the buses at the McDougall arena in Nobel with paddles and lifejackets and arrived an hour later at Bayfield Inlet.
There was flurry of boat flipping as people tried to find the best canoes and then we all just descended on the local docks, en masse and paddled to the start line. As we were arriving there a boat up ahead called "Take your marks, set, GO!" and we all madly paddled only to be called back . A couple of old guys had been out early, fishing and thought it'd be funny if they got all those boats to start racing. :) I laughed.
Not far from the start, straight ahead was a large island with a channel on either side that led to the area of the first control - a collection of hundreds of small Georgian Bay islands, many just humps of pink rock, with cottages and stunted pines.
"a point on a bay on an island". Seriously. Despite paddling fairly straight and steady - our 2 boats were left behind pretty quickly and we lost sight of 33 other canoes well before getting anywhere near the control. So with the exception of whoever actually found the control first, I'm pretty sure we were the only other team to find that control all on our own, no one to follow for us. Luckily as we left the control we saw the photographers so we felt were going in the right direction.
Next we had to get onto the river which we did with a little help from a very enthusiastic local - "LEFT! LEFT!" Thankfully he was correct.
My paddling partner, Becky hasn't really done canoe tripping so she was absolutely loving the gorgeous scenery, exclaiming "Wow!" every few minutes and taking photos. We saw a beaver, a kajillion water lilies and lily pads, lots of swamp and swamp grasses, reeds etc. that made it hard to find the right channel from the mouth of the river into the river-proper. We managed to catch up to 2 other canoes in that area and one team of 3 girls actually portaged quite a distance through thick alders and brush to get to the river and got there exactly as we paddled by. Our goal: not be last to get to the next control. Despite paddling upriver the Naiscoot is not very fast and we didn't have trouble paddling upstream. We met our goal of staying ahead of the 3 girls to the control, but lost our lead shortly afterward because we had to stop and pee. And from then on we had the girls and one other boat in sight but never closed the gap - for 5 hours up Six-Mile Lake. It was pretty country but a long and not very exciting paddle. The waterfall was scenic though.
We landed at the take-out close to 4:00. And I was the last person of the entire event to get off the water. However, the volunteers informed us that we were well ahead of the estimated time they had expected the last team, so we felt better. The volunteers were wonderful, and one of them offered me a delicious gooey bar from the local bakery :) which I devoured while portaging the canoe. Our teammates Outdoorsmama and JustMe had paddled very hard and done a great job but neither had ever portaged a canoe. So we tee-peed the boat, Outdoorsmama got under the yoke, may have wobbled a bit, and proceeded to display an enormous amount of guts by carrying that thing a few hundred metres. Then there was a significant hill. So I got mine to the top and set it down then went back and got hers to the top. We made it the 1.2 km to the TA and she should be extremely proud of herself - I am.
Unfortunately we weren't very fast in the TA, predictably as novices. We didn't dawdle but we just weren't experienced enough to do it quickly and eat at the same time. We finally got it all together and proceeded with our plan: not try to bushwhack straight through, but rather take a longer route around by staying on a cottage road/ATV trail. We are after all no spring chickens. We marched off down the road in the opposite direction from every other team. JustMe and OM found the trail. We took it. There were bugs. Lots. Maybe I'm more exposed/used to them, maybe I smelled bad., whatever, the mosquitoes were thick but didn't drive me crazy. They were however, getting to JustMe and Beckster. They put on big hats, and Beck finally put on long pants - and we all of course were dousing ourselves regularly with bug spray. Oh and I forgot to mention the monster raspberry canes - completely covering the trail eventually. They were the worst thing and got so thick we had to turn back and try the forest. Should have done that sooner. The forest was open under the trees and not nearly so buggy. We did find the lake we were looking for but our navigators somehow couldn't believe that we were standing where we were.
In any case we were going to have to swim across it so we started getting ready to do that when Beck mentioned that she wasn't really a swimmer. Oh.
Outdoorsmama had mentioned that she wasn't a swimmer a while back and had brought a couple of kids' inflatable pool rings and JustMe and brought a beach ball. So we blew up our dry bags and floaties. JustMe got across with air in her dry bag. Outdoorsmama kicked across with her dry bag and a floatie. The 2nd floatie would not inflate much so I carried it with Beck's pack inside and she hugged the beach ball with instructions to kick. When I realized that was going to be very slow and she was way out of her comfort zone I got her to grab onto the pack on my back so I could help tow her. 1/2 way across the 75m crossing, the beachball popped up out of her arms and we could not get it back. So I just towed her and she kicked and we made it. But I couldn't leave the ball just floating out there - so I went for a longer swim with my running shoes on and retrieved it. We rung ourselves out and I was feeling quite refreshed and raring to get going, but my teammates seemed to be getting worried. We headed off on a bearing for the next lake but I was puzzled because I could see the swamp still. We were not where our navigators thought we were.
I really felt like I knew where we were but by now JustMe and Outdoorsmama were losing confidence in their ability to use the maps at that scale, and it was still light. It wasn't going to get any better in the dark. We used the tracker to text HQ, and of course Bash at HQ tried to not give us any info that would DQ us at first. She told us to "stick with the plan, it was a good one". Thanks Bash. When I heard that I was sure I knew where we were, and could get us to the next lake, but I wasn't confident enough in my abilities to lead 3 other rookies after that. The decision to bail was made.
But we still had to swim again - to get back to the road for our ride. So it was a good thing I had retrieved the beach ball!
The walk out was quiet at first then we chatted about the decision and talked through the rationale, the possible consequences, what we did learn from the day etc. and it was kind of cool to hear everyone's reasoning, highlights etc.
We were definitely disappointed but it was heartening to hear them - JustMe at least - say they wanted to do it again!!
- Georgian Bay islands, river paddling, all those water lilies
- Beckster - listening to her say "Wow!", as she marvelled at how beautiful it all was, it was like seeing it for the first time all over again for me, her willingness to try new things and take (hopefully) constructive paddling criticism and coaching all day from me, her bravery at getting into that water as a non-swimmer, with a beach ball as a flotation device, and having the guts to trust her teammates to get across what must have seemed like a large expanse of deep water, and the fact that she didn't whine or complain as she was dragged through kms of sharp raspberry canes and swarms of mosquitoes doing an event she has no background in!
- Outdoorsmama's reasoning and logical thinking, practical planning and excellent preparations, her quiet calm and steady concentration, her ability to learn from errors and make corrections,
her determination to make that canoe go straight, her admirable effort in portaging a canoe for the first time, and her immediate offer to help as a volunteer once we were out of the race and drive out in the middle of the night to pick up other racers in need
- JustMe's amazingly positive attitude, willingness to say she made a mistake and not only take responsibility but work hard to get it right the next time, her encouragement of others, her openminded approach to learning and getting better, her intelligent questions, the ease with which she compliments and admires people, her obvious enthusiasm for the outdoors and humility in being humbled by it, her cheering and willingness to jump in and help as a volunteer as the race ended and things needed to be cleaned up, her toughness in suffering through all those bug bites that made her ears swell
I have a lot of admiration for anyone who tries an adventure race, never mind finishes one. I have acquired even more respect for AR types, and for the volunteers maybe even more so. It takes some special people and I think I'd like to try it again. Great job by Bob - a ton of work. And I got to meet his lovely friendly fiancee :)