AR Competition 15:30:00 
“You have no idea how much I want to win. Did I mention I want to win again? I really like winning. Holy ^&*%, if we don’t win I’m going to lose my $%^” – said one of our teammates in some curse word-laden shape or form during the lead up to this year’s Wilderness Traverse. SHE had clearly caught beaver fever.
In fairness, she wasn’t alone, we all wanted to win. But, with a very talented field, gaining the right to Bob le Castor for another year would be a big effort and a lot had to go right.
* * *
The Paddle – A.K.A. ‘The first time I actually predicted the correct location of a section of the race during the lead up”
Angus was extremely clear in what type of boat he wanted us to get.
“The [insert model name] is a 17’4” Kevlar with a thin profile, perfect for the Magnetawan’s crystal waters and lengthy portages. I’ll take care of commandeering that one. Pete, make it your life’s mission to get us a [insert secondary model name]. It’s not as fast with a 8.5 kph maximum hull speed but it’s got a 17”1’ fiberglass shell and she steers like she’s on rails. Quick, the bus is slowing down…GO…GO…GO!”
Yeah, that was Angus and I taking off like a shot out of the first bus. I breathed a sigh of a relief when we nabbed both of the boats we wanted. There would have been he77 to pay if Shannon heard that we failed to get the quickest boats.
Angus was pretty much frothing at the mouth at the call of ‘GO’. His boat lurched forward and out of the water as he unleashed his first few strokes and I think I saw Shannon’s neck do the type of movement that only whiplash can administer. Three weeks of paddling Québec’s George River to its terminus in Ungava Bay this August had sharpened his already formidable strength in a canoe.
“Come on boys!...Dig in!...Get in behind me!...Now!”, Angus commanded to Jean-Yves and I. We gave it what we had and tucked into the draft. We went on like this mostly with Teams Pullin’ Foot and Warriors as we all opted for the southerly route. It was a simply gorgeous day for a paddle – no wind, comfortable temperatures, no motorized boat traffic, and rocky shores of Canadian Shield vegetation. You don’t get this out west. Beyond the pain I eventually felt in my creaky elbows from very little paddling training this year, I really enjoyed this section.
Our portaging systems worked quite well and we managed to hold onto our position to where we planned to head over land toward CP1. We opted to take out just west of Wolverine Lodge, do a quick bushwhack to the trail network, and then run them to the CP and back. Our thought was that by eliminating the 4km of out-and-back paddling, we might save a bit of time. Wrong. The trails wound quite a bit and added too much distance. We were 8th by the time we hit CP1 and then 10th by CP2/TA1. We had executed the plan well but it just wasn’t a great plan.
* * *
The First Bike – A.K.A. ‘Just get us south to that trek!’
We definitely moved with purpose and I really enjoyed the trail riding to CP3. It buoyed us to catch up to Teams Running Free and Beowulf as we neared HWY 529. Once on it, we paced lined with Team Beowulf for the 10km to the TA. If you get to try it, draft behind Tom Martin…he’s an animal and creates a beautifully sized pocket for us ‘larger’ cyclists. Thanks, Tom!
* * *
The Trek – A.K.A. ‘North?...South?...North?...%^&!’
We left CP4/TA2 in 6th overall, about 6 minutes behind Team Canada AR and 16 minutes back of Team Warriors. Teams Running Free and Beowulf were right on our tails and I knew that the crux of the race was right before us.
A nice little string of lakes, both permanent and intermittent, lay out like a handrail to CP5. Our plan was to hop to each, stay high, and move as quickly as we could through the light brush. It worked well and our spike game was strong as we came over a rise right into CP5 along the Shawanaga River. Angus grabbed hot potatoes that were on offer, care of Bill Logie, but I did not, for fear of Shannon yelling at me again to get my a$$ moving. We had passed Team Canada AR along the way and were now only 12 minutes behind Team Warriors. This was good.
I was definitely thankful that we didn’t have to do the 50m swim to the other shore at night - I’m a wus at the best of times in cold water. We continued over land, virtually due south, using two more intermittent lakes and popped out about 15m east of the t-junction of trails to the NE of a small lake. Spike #II!...as it turns out, I think the route to the gravel roads of Sherryvore proved to be a quicker route but at the time, I was really happy with how things were progressing in this trek. [Insert ominous sounding Darth Vader entrance mood music here].
We ran as quickly on the roads as our slowest teammate would allow (yeah, that would be me) and hit our entry point toward CP7 shortly after 18h15. We figured we had about an hour and a half before complete darkness to cover the 5km of bush before us. It was going to be tight but I was confident that we would be able to do it.
As per the previous section of bushwhacking, I sent Jean-Yves or Angus out in front with a bearing to follow and I corrected from the back – all the while trying to jam food and drink down my throat. Oh the cross that us navigators must bear! The landscape was much harder to move quickly across than the previous bits to the north and I started to get concerned that we may have pushed right past Grouse Lake in our efforts to find the easiest ground to walk on. There was much more water in reality than shown on the map which also complicated our westerly progress. However, we eventually spied the lake and I changed bearing to a slightly more SW version so as to clip the shore of Georgian Bay at a point that is due east of Cedar Island. In hindsight, which is oh so perfect, I really should have just kept us on a conservative bearing so as to be sure to hit the coast well to the north of the CP. All had gone so well leading up to this, however, so I blindly followed my original plan, hoping to minimize inefficient contouring of the shoreline. Dumb, dumb, dumb!
SW we moved and hit a couple of unmarked and very large bits of intermittent water along the way. The easiest way past seemed to always be left and again, I should have forced us on the longer route to the right (and north) but I didn’t. In the end, we hit the coast about 750m south of CP7…in almost complete darkness. Now I really wish we executed a better route to CP1 on the paddle as we could have used the extra 15 minutes!
“You haven’t gone as far as you think you have”, said EVERY wise AR navigator at some point when referring to a situation like this one where a choice must be made. None of us were sure if we were south or north of CP7. I triangulated off of a lighthouse to the south and where it placed us didn’t make much sense. I then triangulated off of an island to the north off of a point and it put us in the middle of the lake. WTF? In the end, I decided on south…and the dot watchers screamed in anguish.
South we went until Shannon spotted a unique shoreline shape. It was distinct enough to quickly spot on the map and as I placed us, I immediately wanted to vomit up a maelstrom of peanut M&Ms and Haribou gummies. We were now 2km south of CP7. #$%^&! I bellowed quite loudly and had that internal self-deprecating rage that any navigator can relate to all the way back north. My teammates were so great here as they didn’t complain (or drown me in the Bay) for the gaffe that cost us a chance at the win. They just pressed on with purpose, having lost 1h30m to Team Warriors, and now in 5th COED just behind DAS Endurance Racing.
We managed to make quick work of the rest of the trek given that we had earned a very intimate understanding of the shoreline and how to move efficiently over it. By CP9/TA3, we found ourselves 1h5m back of Team Warriors, ~40m back of Team Running Free but neck-and-neck with Team Beowulf…those Gallaghers always find a way to be in the mix! And Jamie says he’s retiring…again. Pfft, whatever Favre.
* * *
The Second Bike – A.K.A. ‘Can anyone really ride up that sh!t?’
Jean-Yves rightly pointed out that if there was a chance to try something sneaky to attempt a shot at Team Running Free, now was the time. The only thing on our radar was a couple of small navigational risks and the big ride around on roads between CP11 and CP12. We had almost caught up to Team Beowulf en route to CP10 but a tricky right turn into what turned out to be a dead-end cost us about 10 minutes. Shortly thereafter, however, we managed to catch and pass them. They seemed to head south on roads while we ultimately opted for the trails to CP12. I was 100% convinced that Harper of Team Running Free would opt for roads as the hammerhead Ironman part of him makes him lean that way sometimes. However, the leveled statistician in him kept his team on the trails as it turned out. Wonders never cease.
Like every other team has reported since the end of the race, the trails were a tough go. We were on and off our bikes again and again, our drive-trains took a beating, chain suck started, and we just weren’t moving that fast at all. On the plus side, we ate and drank well and managed to get through a complicated gravel pit area with no wrong turns.
After one-too-many loose rock climbs, we reached the east-west road to the south of CP13 and bolted onto the pavement for a quick ride to the finish line. Once across, we earned the last spot on the podium. The finish video pretty much says it all per teammate – Jean-Yves and Shannon were smiling and upbeat as per usual, Goose’ helmet was off to one side and he collapsed on the relaxing side of the finish line, and I shook my head with personally directed frustration at the CP7 mistake that took us out of the running. On the positive side, we worked so well together, enjoyed each other’s company, raced amongst friends in a beautiful backdrop, and were treated to a flawlessly executed and authentic adventure race by Bob/Barb and their crew.
Congratulations to Teams Pullin’ Foot (Chad has likely become the Canadian version of Chris Forne and should be now be referred to as ‘The Map Whisperer’) for the overall fastest time, Warriors for a well-earned victory, Running Free for giving them a decent run for the title, and anyone else who finished the whole racecourse as it was veritable challenge.
Let’s hope that we’re all treated to another excellent WT in 2017!