Took my time writing it up so I guess I’ll make it a longish one…
Team Birdman wasn’t able to race in honour of our friend this year, despite the Birdman surviving another tough year in his battle with ALS (he’s truly an inspiration!!) Tommy indicated he’d still like to give ‘er a go, so at Shannon’s suggestion I asked Kelly to join us and she graciously (and fortunately for me) accepted. Then, with a couple weeks to go, it worked out that Will could fly back from B.C. to join us. He knew we had no aspirations of a podium finish in this field, but it would still be a good tune up for ARWS and he’d be some good support for our team.
The course looked pretty straightforward. One big decision on the paddle (with some other more subtle choices, as Salomon would demonstrate), a couple of route options on the trek, and one big back-track and road option on the final bike. That was just it in a nutshell for me. Some great mixed terrain and what looked to be an awesome and fair course.
We’d never raced together before. I knew what I was getting with Will - strength and youth and pretty good experience for a young racer. Tommy had one overnighter to his credit and while not an outdoorsy guy, he’s a great athlete and in good shape. Kelly (whom none of us knew) had some good 6-8 hour race experience and I understood she had decent bike skills and (if first impressions count) a great attitude. My approach was to try and be efficient, keep it low key/low pressure and see how much we could get out of this team. I was hoping we could hold our own on the bikes, be mid-pack on the water and not get decimated on the trek.
We were a little too low key coming off the busses and ended up getting 2 of what were likely the last 4 boats. They were both 16 footers and by AR standards they were still pretty decent boats even though not the best of this fleet. We decided to put Tommy with me as he is a non-paddler and Kelly with her greater experience went with Will. This was just a guess and we had a tow system at the ready along with the option to swap partners enroute. As it turned out the boats were pretty evenly matched and the conditions were such that drafting each other without towing was sufficient. We took the south route and I was pretty happy with how we did on the paddle. We were about 13th off the water and very close to a lot of teams in front of us. It was a spectacular day and a terrific paddle route… so spirits were pretty high.
Our transition was a little slow (15 mins?), but not a big deal and we had a decent ride to the next TA. I was a little concerned that we were not able to hold a moderate pace line with BiT and I wasn’t sure if it was lack of leg or lack of pace-line experience. Some people are just not comfortable on someone else’s wheel. I should have asked about that before the race.. or paid more attention to the answer, when I asked..
The next TA wasn’t speedy either, but also wasn’t horrible. We were able to look after a couple of issues, down some calories and set out in pretty good spirits in the top 1/3 or maybe even ¼ of the field. Then boohyaaa….. gotta love AR.
I forgot to mention that Will took all of my compasses with him to BC…. And his car got broken into and his pack was stolen. He had one compass left, which he forgot at home. When I sent him to purchase a compass (or 2) he ended up borrowing 2. I neglected to ask to see them before the race…..
When we left left the TA I went a little east of the marina because I thought we could follow a road and gain a bit of distance before hitting bush. It didn’t really help except to push us left of a swamp I didn’t see on our map. I decided to just stay left of it and cut around the bottom end of it. After about 5 mins it was getting bigger and pushing us WAY left.. sounded like we were almost on the highway. My walmart compass was super jittery and nothing seemed to match what was on the map. I thought maybe this compass was whacked so I asked Will for the other compass (which I’m sure was a prize from one of those Thanksgiving Dinner popper’s). So I held the 2 compasses ‘side-by-each’ and they weren’t even close to pointing the same direction?!?!? Will thought it was hilarious, but I was losing it. This was not the type of trek I wanted to be ‘winging it’ in the dark.
I decided to stick with the first compass, because it had been more or less accurate on the paddle. I then decided to backtrack to the other side of the swamp and start over. It seemed like I had wasted an hour but when I looked at the tracker it was maybe 10 mins lost?? I was very cautious for the rest of the trek. Always taking extra time for the bouncy needle to come to rest and taking 2-3 bearings each check.. so essentially I spent the entire night walking with my compass in front of me taking bearings…. EXCEPT for when we hit the road to CP6 and I assumed there was a manned CP and we walked past it by about 50 minutes… How does that happen?? … $#^%#^!!!!!!!
I cautiously aimed well west of CP5 and we got there with over an hour of good light left. Cool to see Logie there with his crew and eat some salted potatoes!! I was concerned about our slow speed through the bush and worried when it got dark we might slow to the point of missing cutoffs.
My plan was to hit the west end of the pond in Skerryvore and follow the road to CP 6. We hit the road pretty much bang on and then proceeded to $#1t the bed as described above. I was so focused on finding the easiest route to keep us moving and spirits up. I totally let my guard down when we hit the road and we walked right passed the CP - because of my earlier issue at the beginning of the trek I was rattled 'maybe we didn't hit the road in Skerryvore likel I thought'… Close to 2 hours wasted!!??? (I spent about 45 mins on the way out saying "we should have seen it by now".. and 50 mins on the way back saying "how could we have missed a CP on the road?!")
Once back on track we made steady progress. No one complained about the gaffe and we just kept it simple. We took advantage of one trail near the west end of Grouse Lake. It allowed us to move a little quicker and took us to the coast a little sooner than I would have gone otherwise. I asked the team where they felt more comfortable and where they felt they could move faster. They consensus was that they preferred bush over coasteering :-( I kept us close to the coast for a bit until I felt I could take a good shot at Imrie Lake without hitting EVERY SINGLE swamp. Regardless, we had a swampy walk to CP 8. We weren’t moving fast but I give the team credit for never complaining and continuing to push. For Kelly’s first 24+ hour race, she was awesome, real trooper and positive throughout!
We spent almost an hour in the TA to bike and woke up Will by the fire when it was time to go. Will was struggling to stay awake for the first hour of the ride. His illness on top of the flight from BC on Friday appeared to be catching up to him. I was tired too. We hit a stop sign on the bike and I had to confess I was sleep riding and had no idea where this stop sign was?!?! It was light now and there were only a couple of places we could be, so we turned left and I was able to determine where we were in short order. Sucks doing these sections without an odometer, but we found CP’s 10 and 11 without incident. At 11 we decided to ride back out to Shebeshekong Rd. The idea was that if we had time we’d ride through Parry Sound and out 124 to get CP’s 12 & 13. If we didn’t have time we’d take the short course route home. I had been 50/50 on doing this ride-around before the race, not knowing how we’d fare on the bikes over the road vs trails. The two hour gaffe at CP6 pretty much sealed it that we’d have to take this option, because committing to the more technical route had a high probability of ensuring we’d miss the race closing and subsequently DNF. At least this way we had an option. We weren’t long into the ride into Nobel when it was obvious there would be no hard push to clear the full course. So we stopped and got some refreshments before a leisurely ride to the finish.
Had it not been for the CP 6 issue we would have easily cleared the course :-(. We finshed with over 2.5 hours to spare.
Great race, with great people! Thanks to all the volunteers and race staff and other racers for another successful WT!!! Very happy to add Kelly to the list of awesome people I have met through AR and hope she enjoyed her first WT despite the somewhat disappointing result.