AR Competition race 16:00:00 
WILDERNESS TRAVERSE, Parry Sound
I’ve always felt it such a privilege when talented athletes agree to form a team with me for an adventure race. This year’s WT was no different when Lee, Scotty, and Jean-Yves were motivated to try to race for Bob the Beaver as Team Blackbird (we’ve got lots of those flying around the North Shore and the sporting goods brand I work for has the pet name of ‘The Bird’). Given the competition for what would likely be the pointy end of the race, winning Wilderness Traverse this year would be a formidable challenge.
Liza, Benoit, Alex, and James - I joked with Liza and James nearing the race that ALL of the pressure was on them as this was a team that would finish top 15 (or better) at an ARWC in my mind. Benoit has always proven so accurate and consistent on the maps and the very experienced others would push the group super hard from post to post.
Team Warriors - It’s a bit of a shame that there aren’t more races for these guys to hone their skills in because they’ve got all of the right elements of becoming a top-end AR team - work ethic, fitness, teamwork, friendship, light-heartedness, humility, organization, and grit. They won last year and would undoubtedly push hard for a repeat.
Julie, Chris, Chad, and Vince - This group was a wild card in my mind. Chad’s proven talent with a map and compass should give the rest of the team the ability to focus on just pushing super hard. However, as they hadn’t raced as a group before and I didn’t know how they’d react as a group when the intensity of racing at the front would be felt. Either way, I figured we’d rub shoulders with them from time to time.
Certainly, there would also be some other strong groups but these 3 were the ones I had my eye on to challenge for the win. It would take a close-to-perfect effort to achieve the goal amongst this 50-team field!
ZONE 5 OPENING ‘TREK’ - Leaving Tappattoo Resort at 4m15s pace was ‘awesome’. My 200+ lbs frame hasn’t reacted well in my 40s to running and so I’ve simply tried to manage injury after injury over the past couple of years. Suffice it to say that pinning it off of the start on foot was something that both Lee and I were dreading. After Bob’s 3-2-1 ‘GO’, we bounced along the roads (read: panting for air on my part!) and after CP1, began assessing distance for the north trail we wanted thereafter. One came too quickly and so we went right by. Unfortunately, I was wrong but fortunately, I wasn’t the only navigator to do the same thing! Back on track amongst a hoard of chasing teams, we made for the beaver dam and CP2. The lakes I was expecting to see were mostly dried up but the shape was right and we quickly spotted our mark - other teams milling around the CP certainly helped! On to CP3 we went and while in the end it seemed that my attackpoint was slightly too late, we grabbed it quickly and bushed it down the hill to the TA where some teams were already leaving...sh!t. We were 4 minutes down on Team Snowpants so we were already playing catch-up.
PLAYING CATCH UP FOR 20K - Having done the 2015 edition of WT as well as testing the 2003 Salomon Adventure Challenge Parry Sound, I was quite clear on what to expect for this next bike section, mostly on the Seguin Trail toward Orrville. My legs were not happy about the opening intensity of the race and so I tried to jam as much food into my mouth as I could while being careful not to fall back from the team in the process. Catching and passing team after team felt good but also a bit frustrating too, as it meant that my nav bobble had cost us too much time. We were originally worried about getting cold on this ride...not so much in the end, of course, as the temperature was perfect for a day of intense racing. Even though we managed to fire off the 2nd fastest time on this leg, Team Snowpants put an additional 7 minutes into us. Ugh...they were smokin’ the course!
WARM UP’s OVER - Leaving the TA with Team DAS Endurance kept us honest as we pushed the pace (again!) as we headed east on a series of roads and trails. We found the trail to head around Storm Lake and now with Team Milton B.R., we had extra incentive to keep this effort up. Once back on the east-west Seguin Trail, we made east for a slight rise in the land so we could jump off to the southeast and bush it along the eastern shore of Fume Lake toward CP6. The land features thereafter would act as a funnel and would keep us on track, hopefully right to the CP. We got lucky fairly early on as we landed on an old 4x4 trail in our general direction. However, it started to head east at one point and as I figured it was heading to Jelso Lake to our direct east, we left it and continued on our bearing through the light bush. Team Laug Train joined us at this point and we hit CP6 at the same time...albeit feeling a little early for both Chad and I. We found out we were now in 2nd / 3rd so surprise, surprise, we were chasing Team Pantalon des Neige, now 13 minutes ahead of us!
We ran along the trails with these guys and I really started to flag. My right knee was killing me and medial side of both ankles were screaming at me to give this %^&* a rest. Scotty bounded along in his marathon fitness and it’s possible that I cursed him a few times for making me work so damn hard. I also looked at Chad a few times in general confusion. He’s built like me but he has this loping run which looks effortless and slow...but it’s anything but! Team Laug Train continued on the trail but we had a different attack strategy to CP7 and headed into the marshy flat land, heading due east. I felt this was a safe route that should minimize marsh travel while hitting CP7’s Horn Lake in an obvious spot relative to the island we wanted. In hindsight, we were likely 75m too far south and hit too much water. Team Laug Train’s route, which looked wetter on the map, proved not to be and they gained time on us. Never the less, we hit the point I wanted to and spiked the CP without issue. “INCOMING!!!” was the cry of Team Warriors coming in hot behind us as they belly-flopped into the water as we all swam to CP7. It was definitely on now!
Team Warriors and our team made a direct east route to the cut line that ran right to CP8/TA3 while Team Laug Train headed southeast on a direct route through the bush to the objective. It was good fun travelling along with Team Warriors as they chirped each other, laughed, and moved quickly through the light ground cover. In my pained state, I cursed their youth but loved to see them having so much fun as a team. We both hit the cut line at the same time and ran south to the TA together. After a few minutes, we still hadn’t seen Team Laug Train so we transitioned quickly to keep them behind us.
THE BIG BIKE - Working with Team Warriors in an 8-person draft line, I wanted to put time into Team Laug Train now behind us and Team SpongeBobSnowPants ahead of us. Again, I tried to eat as much as I could in this slight reprieve and we quickly hit CP9 in Bear Lake.
Heading southwest now, the trail became loose, bumpy, and water-filled. Team Warriors fell back (it turns out they may have lost their SI Card along here somewhere so were probably talking about how to deal with that) and we continued along at our pace past Sequin Falls to CP10 at the west end of Ten Mile Lake. We worked together quite well with Jean-Yves pushing Lee up the hills and I towing from time to time.
Thanks to Bob’s team’s work on the maps, the route to the south and west was obvious and we made each turn without any issue. It would otherwise be a maze in this swath of land, filled with all sorts of trails, marshes, lakes, and bush. What was proving to be a good leg for us, turned dire when Jean-Yves tire blew. Out came the CO2 and the snake-bitten tube and in went the new one, but...the CO2 cartridge was too big for the adapter. F*ck! We took turns on the handpump and ‘POP’, thankfully the tire beaded and we were off. What surprised us at the time was that no one passed us. However, upon looking at the online tracking post-race, Team Laug Train was likely less than a km behind us now that we got going again. That was a fortunate bit of timing as they likely would have been buoyed had they seen their quarry at that stage. Meanwhile, it seems as though we were now 23 minutes back of Team NeigeBottoms. I really enjoyed this bike section as it was a great mix of terrain to cross over 79km. From other teams’ post-race stories, however, it seems as though much of the wetter bits took a greasy form after a number of us went through. As it was, I cringed each time I blasted through a hub-deep puddle, only to spin through a sandy bit of ground right afterward. I gave my bike an apology or two and was so glad that I’m now on a 1x11 drivetrain now.
SUNSET PADDLE - When Bob emailed out the course breakdown before the race, we agreed that a big goal would be to finish the 79k bike before sunset. Right before that leg on race day, I overhead Bob mention that the lead teams were over an hour ahead of schedule at TA3 which led me to believe that we would achieve this goal. Once in the TA, we learned that Team IceLegs had only left about 10 minutes ago so we made quick work of our transition. We learned shortly thereafter that Team Warriors had incurred a 1-hour penalty for a dropped SI Card, however, Team Laug Train was on our a$$ so we needed to move with purpose if we wanted to hold onto 2nd place. Grabbing for our 2nd canoe and hoisting it over my head, I just about fell over from the weight. We were hoping for a nice light and long canoe but I had inadvertently picked up a pig. Making the change for a significantly lighter boat, we were off to the put-in where we zip-tied glow sticks, donned our headlamps, turned on rear flashers, affixed safety kits to each stern, and rammed more food in our mouths. This intensity was killing me!
I have paddled amongst the Massasagua archipelago before and remember scratching my head at times, trying to figure out where we were amongst all of the islands. With this in the back of my mind we were now racing against the setting sun, knowing that Team WhiteTrousers were doing the same, 28 minutes ahead us. We nabbed CP13 without issue just after the day’s last light tucked into the horizon and downed some Snickers bars that were offered to us by the super energetic CP volunteers. Thankfully, an abnormally bright moon was up and gave us some unexpected extra light to work with as we negotiated the twists and turns toward our first portage. Despite this moonlight, we struggled to find the entrance to it in the darkness. We didn’t want to show a chasing Team Laug Train our find, so we tried to move quickly into the woods before they could benefit from our slowdown.
We paddled northward under a starry sky and while we were racing hard, I felt quite lucky to be with good friends in a special part of Southern Ontario. Racing at the front of the pack can be type II fun at times but at that moment, I took stock of the fun side of what we were doing. Shaken from this self-reflection, however, a motorboat almost took our two canoes out as they mustn’t have seen our headlamps. It was too close from being a serious collision and while we didn’t give it much pause for thought at the time, as we had a big wake to steady ourselves through, that guy would have otherwise received an earful from us despite his wave of apology.
THE CRUX - Once at CP14 and the end of this paddling section, we learned that we were down by 36 minutes to 1st place. Liza et al were really owning this course and seemed quite unstoppable at this point. However, this next little trek looked considerably technical and we had planned to be extra careful on the route choice so as not to end up in a spot which would cost us precious time. Anything could happen in a section like this, so while we were down by quite a margin, we were focussed on nailing our plan. Scotty’s son Isaac was volunteering at this CP and he made sure to tell us his words of encouragement to try to catch Team BlizzardStix ahead of us.
The plan to CP15 was fairly conservative as I wanted an attackpoint that was fairly close and obvious in the darkness. Thankfully, the bush was thin so we quickly made our way to the north-south portage to our west, ran south to the end, and moved southwest along the shore of the marshy water. It was a bit confusing as the map showed the water to be wide open but instead, it was a big marsh. Once we grabbed some high ground, we made it directly for an inlet to the northeast of CP15...and WHO IS THAT? Holy sh!t, it’s Team LeadsTheRaceAtAllTimesSoFar! Pleasantries were exchanged but I was confused by their direction of travel. Had they already gotten CP15, or, were they looking for it? Either way, we had to play out our plan and moved quickly on the high ground atop the east side of the lake toward where we figured CP15 was. Unfortunately, we went right by it but upon quick inspection of the lake shape, we turned around and reached it within 50m of where we were.
Our conservative route had paid off, however, Team Laug Train really went for it on this section and smoked our travel time from CP14-15 by 18 minutes. Not surprisingly, we met up as we moved toward CP16 but took different routes amongst the technical terrain thereafter. It now seemed as though victory hung in the balance with all of our teams within 1km of each other. Gulp.
Our plan toward CP16 was a bit aggressive and would rely on hitting a few objectives along the way. It would avoid what looked like a marshy mess to our north and meant that we would be swimming in the middle of the night to and from the CP. We didn’t relish this thought but we were in it to win it. Besides, Scotty stunk and would benefit from a dunk in the cold water...Baaazingo!
We found the east-west drainage I wanted to moved east toward its terminus at a lake. Once at it, we grabbed the north shore of it, moved east for another 150m before jumping north to another arm of lake. While I got a bit confused at one point as there were too many inlets versus what I saw on the map, I was sure we hadn’t gone too far east and so we changed our direction to due north to the CP, putting faith in our distance estimates from the last CP. After a short clamber up and over rocky terrain, we hit Creswicke Lake, joined up with Team Laug Train AGAIN(!), and moved east to where we wanted to cross over to CP16.
No time for wardrobe changed at this point so we jumped right it and swam in the surprisingly warm water to the Waddington’s CP. As we swam back, we crossed paths with Team Laug Train who had opted to adjust clothing for their midnight dip. With Chad navigating so well (surprise, surprise), each minute counted. Again, we decided against changing into something warm and moved southward as quickly as we could. I wanted to hit the east end of a mid-route lake before taking a more direct bearing to CP17 but we never saw it. This meant that we need to cover a little extra distance and as a result, bumped into Team Laug Train...again.
PUSHING FOR HOME - Just 12 minutes separated us from 1st place now as we had somehow managed to put 22 minutes into them between CP16 and CP17. The race was still on! Scotty and Lee asked if we REALLY needed to get warmer clothes on or not (like there was a choice?!!?) and of course, we opted to jump in the boats immediately to give chase.
I was certainly cold and pretty beaten up from the day’s efforts. However, moving with such purpose this late in the game put all of that in the back of my mind. Good thing because a layer of thick mist was now atop the water, making headlamp-lit visibility about 5-10 metres. So, I’d take a bearing on the map, find a star that was close, and we’d use that as our guide for each turn we took through the Massasauga maze of islands and inlets. It was stressful work to be honest as we were both chasing and being chased.
Into Three Legged Lake after another portage, the wheels finally came off. We spun around in the mist while I tried to make sense of things and unfortunately, traveled off of our intended route into a parallel set of features that mirrored our objective. We all got super frustrated but worked together to sort it out. It’s one thing to get found when on foot or on bikes but when you’re in the dark, on the water, with thick mist all around, a new level of complexity comes into play. This bobble cost us over an hour and we were all quite bummed at the turn of events, given how well things had gone thus far. The chance to pass Team SnowPants was lost and we had likely let several others get by us, too. After last year’s CP7 debacle, I had been determined not to let that happen again. However, it had and I was so frustrated at myself for it.
Once across the finish line, back at Tappattoo Resort, Jean-Yves punched in and we were asked for our safety kits. We showed them and were then informed that in fact, we were 2nd still. WTF? Team Laug Train didn’t have theirs and had incurred a 2-hour penalty and Team Warriors had also gotten turned around in the mist. Through all of that drama, we were still in 2nd place, having finished 1h40m behind Liza, Benoit, James, and Alex.
Team Snowpants was the class of the event, moving so cleanly and quickly from post-to-post. An impressive performance in my view! While it was nice to have the silver medal, it would have been ideal to have earned it outright as Team Laug Train had raced so well. That’s racing sometimes.
Thanks so much to my teammates for pushing us forward as quickly as we could and for focusing 100% on ‘team’. It was good fun to have truly raced from start to finish against such talented teams like SnowPants, Laug Train, and Warriors. You guys kept us focussed and pushed us to the limit. Congrats to all of the teams who crossed the finish line in some shape or form as it was a formidable challenge out there. Lastly, thanks to Bob, Barb, Brad and an impressive fleet of 50+ volunteers. We’re so lucky you do this each year with professionalism, passion, and with smiles on your faces...it was a good way to spend our wedding anniversary!