Wilderness Traverse race 26:30:00  170.0 km (9:21 / km)
Saturday morning (September 30th)
8 a.m. Race start.
Leg #1 (7km Trek). A quick “run” on a road leaving Grand Tappattoo and winding slowly uphill (CP1) – onto a trail – quick bushwhack to a beaver dam (CP2) – back out to a trail/road – up a hill straight to CP3 – and back down into Grand Tappattoo (CP4/TA1). No major damage here. Change shoes and onto our bikes.
Time: 8:45 a.m.
Leg #2 (24 km Bike). 1 km into the bike we got stuck at a train crossing. We heard it coming and along with one other team in front of us, we missed crossing by about 30 seconds. Now we had to wait – what seemed like an eternity - I think we waited about 5 minutes. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
We whipped up and around to Seguin Trail – and headed east about 20 km’s to Orrville (where CP5/TA2 was located). We felt good with the bike, and ended up at the TA in around 20-25th place? We were ahead of schedule and feeling pretty good. The make-or-break trek section (Leg #3) laid ahead, so we once again changed shoes (and socks this time), and grabbed barely a bite to eat, and headed out on what was predicted to be a 5-10 hour trekking section. Funny enough, our long-time buddy Dan (with his 2 buddies from Collingwood – Nav Like Jagger) were already at this TA, putting their trekking gear on, and left a few minutes before us.
Time 10:20 a.m.
Leg #3 (20 km Trek). We headed east of Orrville on Sugar Lake Road for a 1-2 km, and then veered off on a crappy trail, that forked a few times, enough to keep us on our toes. We ended up on the Seguin Trail again heading east – and planned to go approx. 2 km passing the top of Fume Lake and then veer south-east for 3.5 km’s of big time bush-whacking, in hopes of hitting CP6 (west edge of Vinett Lake). We seemed to be going pretty well, hitting what we thought and hoped were our planned catch features during this trek. As we came through the bush we came across CP6. We then hit an old logging road and headed east towards CP7. After 1.5 km’s this trail ran into another trail that ran north-south – we had to go about 1 km north on this trail, before we veered off to the east on yet another trail. As we were going up this trail we passed about 4-5 more teams heading south on their way to CP6. We started to realize that we were ahead of a number of good teams that I recognized.
As we hit the trail head to go east Storm Beowulf came running by us, which was no surprise to us (damn runners), in fact we had expected this to happen sooner as we kept looking over our shoulder waiting for them. The trail we were now on would go for 1.5-2 km’s (0.5 km east – 1 km south – then 0.5 km east) before you would be stuck with a bush-whack through to the edge of a lake, where you would have to swim to an island for CP7. Due to our lack of running skills we had decided to jump off this trail as it started to head south – and bush-whack 2 km’s straight east right into the edge of the lake, and then go a little further south down the lake edge – right into the checkpoint. Sounded like a great plan. We were about to find out. As we were about to leave the trail Nav Like Jagger showed up again. As we peeled into the bush, they kept running down the trail, so we were about to find out who was going to make the right call. Our 2 km bush-whack started with a swim/river that was going to be about 500m into the bush-whack. We had no idea how wide this crossing would be, that would depend on where we hit it – the problem was you never want to admit you are wrong and go back – so we planned to just go across whatever we saw. The first swamp we got to was just over knee deep… not bad… we hoped that was it… As we came through more brush and over another hill we saw a large opening ahead (this is not a good sign). When we busted through the woods we saw a 100m+ swamp crossing…. DAMN. No time to waste as we jumped right in, and were shocked/pleased to find out it was a bog, so we walked across it (no deeper than shoe deep in water)… it was like walking on a massive water bed – each step you took moved the mossy top up and down in an area about 20+ feet on either side of you. After we made it across we kept going east and hit our lake, and after going a short jaunt south we bumped into Nav Like Jagger again, right as we all hit CP7. Well, we still had a 150m swim across to officially get to CP7 – so we put our backpacks and shirts in waterproof bags, and took the dip. Storm Beowulf was just making this crossing as we arrived at the edge of the lake. As we checked into CP7 we asked the volunteer how far ahead the leaders were (knowing it was a combination of the expected favourites – Snowpants, Warriors, LaugTrain and Blackbird – all teams made up of various past Wilderness Traverse winners). They had passed by about 2 hours before us (WTF?... that is crazy fast).
We did the swim off the island and headed towards CP8 - a 2 km bushwhack east where we would run into a clear cut of trees (where they were clearing to build a future road). This clear cut could not be missed, and would lead you straight down into CP8/TA3. We walked this clear cut as my bad knee (not like I have a good one) was starting to seize up, and I could barely walk on it. This was not good seeing as it was only about 3 p.m. (only 7 hours into the race!).
Once we got to CP8/TA3 we grabbed our bike gear – fully changed clothes – and put on an extra layer as we were heading out on what was expected to be a brutal bike leg.
Time 3:30 p.m.
Leg #4 (79 km Bike).
The bike leg north to CP9 was on backroads. Nothing crazy, maybe 15 km’s, a few up and down hills, a few turns onto other roads, but nothing hard. We hit CP9 at a trail junction, and then started heading west on another stretch of the infamous Seguin Trail. This section was full of up and down rolling humps (like smooth speed bumps) and loose sand, and water holes (sometimes over knee deep). Most you could ride around, but it was getting a little monotonous… One old guy riding a 4-wheeler stopped to ask us what we were doing as he had never seen so many (aka “any”) bikes on this trail before.
After about 7-8 km’s this trail eventually hit another road heading south towards CP10. As we rode south on this road it ended and turned into another ATV trail. We knew this trail as we had taken it north on our way from CP6 to CP7 (we had all passed CP10 on the way a few hours earlier, so we knew exactly what we were looking for). We hit CP10 – and went further south where the trail got a lot worse. Further down this trail we knew we the trail was going to fork/split a few times and we had to be very careful not to miss the correct turns.
The next 5-8 km’s was a sh*t show of “trails” – on and off our bike, around water holes, rocks all over, ruts in the road – it was like riding on a buttery, greasy, uneven, rocky trail… not fun in the least. Now we had a section of roads and we went until about 6:30-6:45 p.m. and we stopped at the junction of a highway. Here we put our bike lights on (I should have done this before the race started – this was a waste of precious time/sunlight). We headed down to CP11 (located on the west side of Hwy 400 – along Lawson Bay Road).
We left this CP and headed into another gong-show of a “trail” running south for about 8-9 km’s. This was the worst section yet. I didn’t think that was possible. We plugged away on this leg and we FINALLY hit the highway (Healey Lake Road), and now we could ride the last 10+ km’s west and into Pete’s Place (the marina at the south east corner of Massasauga Wildlands Provincial Park) and CP12/TA4.
We took about 25 minutes at this transition area as we changed clothes again, and tried to actually eat some food and warm up.
Time: 11:00 p.m.
Leg #5 (20 km Paddle & Portage)
We started off heading west across a lake – and were to enter a narrow passage. The fog was rolling in and it was hard to see any distance in front of you. We found a system that worked, with a red light on the maps in the back, and no other head lamps turned on. We grabbed our bearing and used the stars to navigate to the channel. We hit it bang on and headed around the corner and north towards CP13. As we turned east around Bear Island we got turned around, but within a few minutes we found CP13. From there we headed north towards the first portage (to Clear Lake) and the fog was very heavy. We spent a few minutes looking for the portage, and ended up a little east and into a long narrow river that came onto a dead-end. We came back out and found the portage just after Kinetic Konnection (I believe). We followed them through the portage and headed north/north-east around a bend towards the next portage (that would take us to Spider Lake). We passed KK and hit the next portage – and worked our way up and around to CP14. We passed DAS (?) heading in the opposite direction, as they had recently left CP14 and were heading for home. We asked them how the trek went and they said they had not done it…..????? We arrived at CP14 around 3:45 a.m. (15 minutes before the cut-off). KK arrived a few minutes after us. Both teams were having our own debates with each other about whether to bail (and head for home) OR try the trek which the top teams had taken 3.5+ hours to complete. After 10+ minutes wasted we decided to go for CP15/16/17 – KK ended up heading for home (good call).
Time: 4:00 a.m.
Leg #6 (7 km Trek)
We started the 2 km westwards trek to CP15 and expected the worst. A few small swamps, a few rock ledges, had us zig-zagging, but still feeling okay. We came across a narrow bay – and assumed (correctly) that we were north of the CP – but still a little west of where we needed to be. We headed south around the tip of this bay, and were to head east into the lake – and we would have been almost on top of the CP. Instead we went a little too far south, and as we went to enter a swamp to head east we came across a bear in thick brush (what felt like about 30 feet in front of us). We startled it and it was crashing through the small brush – we crapped ourselves and were going to bail back the way we came, but we stayed facing it while backing up (and trying to see where we were going at the same time). 5 seconds (???) or so later we stopped and didn’t hear anything – so we kept back-pedalling over a small knoll, and out of sight, at which time we bailed and ran for 10-15 seconds and stopped again and heard nothing. PHEW. A little too close for comfort (note to self: quit carrying my bear-banger in the bottom of my backpack). With that scare behind us we headed back to the north to get away from that area. This threw us a little off our planned course, and then our compasses started going wacky. We were getting different readings from each other – and were starting to get confused (after reading other race reports I see this was a common theme in this area/magnetism in the rocks? – good to know we were not going completely crazy). We came back to the water and headed north, and it was not looking right. We finally headed south and came across CP15. It was now 6 a.m. (2 hours wasted… brutal!). We told the 2 volunteers about our bear scare and they said that 20 (or so) minutes before we got there the bear came into their camp, while they were in their tent – and it scared the heck out of them too. The bear was startled and went running off. Our most important question to them was “which way did the bear go?”… as we were about to head off to the north towards CP16. They did not know which way the bear went as they were inside the tent when it arrived at their campsite. Great (sarcasm). We headed off to the north – and about 15 minutes later (as it was nearing 6:15-6:30?) we had a group “chat” about whether to continue or not. We were worried about how long that had taken us to get to CP15 – and we had a worse trek ahead (to CP16) – and we still had to get back to CP17, and then canoe/portage 14 km to the finish. After a few minutes of friendly arguing we came to a consensus that we should head for home. We still had a LONG way to go, without counting the 5 km (or more if we got lost again) trek that lay ahead of us to pick up CP16 and get back to CP17. Even getting back to CP17 was a little of a worry (since it took us 2 hours to get from CP14 to CP15).
About half way back to CP14 we felt we were getting down to the water/river that ran eastwards and would bring us south of CP14. It was about to get light and Craig let out a HOOT – we heard back people yell back from afar (WTF?.... were there other people back in here?)… Craig HOOTED again…. And they yelled back?.... Perfect (we had thought) – it must be early risers from the campsite down to the south of us, which meant we were right where we thought we were, so we kept heading east. (Later we saw on the tracker, and read from other race reports that this team may have been Mountain Hardwear?... as they crossed us at this exact time and would have been to the south of us). As we kept trekking east we had to go quite a bit further than we had expected. Finally we jumped north and were almost on top of CP14.
Time 7:00 a.m.
Leg #7 (14 km Paddle & Portage)
Feeling deflated at wasting 3 hours we now headed for home. The sun was starting to come up and fog was still there, but lifting slowly. We worked our way around – and came to the portages – where Team Birdman blew by us (we had met Dave Hitchon earlier as we were leaving CP14 ahead of them – and in small talk realized we knew a few of his relatives – small world indeed). As they flew past us and pulled away we just kept slugging along, still ticked off about missing CP16 – and wondering what could have been (the life of middle-of-the-pack adventure racing teams). That mess up will haunt us until next year’s race.
Close to 10:30 a.m. we rolled into the finish. We bumped into a few teams we knew who were saying Congrats – you guys are 8th – and we were saying “Nope, we are definitely not”… they said it was posted inside, and we said that we were confident this would change (because we had missed CP16). Despite it being a bitter pill to swallow (officially ending up 20th) we were thrilled to have been in the position we were all race. We did not expect to be in the top half of the field. There are many FAST teams, and a handful of SUPER FAST teams – we are not in that league. We loved the layout, and not that it favoured us, but it couldn’t have been any better for us. We were not sure if we would be back, as my last two races this year were disappointing for various poor/stupid decisions made mid-race. The funny thing about this sport, like any other sport I guess, is that even small successes make you think you can do more/do better. We are already planning on being back next year – and can only hope that we give ourselves a shot at the top half of the field again.