Saturday 24 September 2016

Team Canada AR's Race Report From Wilderness Traverse

After a very chaotic summer, our team decided at the last minute to sign up for the Wilderness Traverse 24 hour adventure race in Parry Sound, Ontario. This race never disappoints and always draws a strong field, so we were excited to have the chance to race it again this year. After some scrambling to find a team mate, we (Jason, Nat, and James) finally managed to coax Ryan VanGorder to join us for the race. 

Stunning scenery on the paddle
We knew ahead of time that the race would feature 4 legs – paddle, bike, trek, and bike – with a swim on the trek section. But the rest was a mystery until we got the maps on Friday night. The paddle had what looked like two major options: 1. The Northern route, which looked shorter but had more portaging, and 2. The Southern route, which looked longer but with less portaging. The first bike was short and relatively straightforward. The trek looked like it would certainly be the crux of the race, with few big features on the map, and tons of water everywhere. The final bike looked like what we have come to expect in this region – a mix of roads and trails that would likely be more challenging than they appear on the map. 

After an early morning bus ride to the start line, we snatched up two decent looking canoes and got ourselves ready for the race start. The start in canoes was the usual chaos – boats going in all directions, crazy waves everywhere, and the challenge of keeping contact with your team mates in the other canoe. Nathalie and James were paired up in one canoe, with Jason and Ryan doing the navigation from the other boat. After some jostling on the water, the cluster of teams began to thin out. We were up amongst the leaders when we pulled in to a bay briefly to see if it was our turnoff for the Southern route – it wasn’t. We lost some ground to the lead teams and paddled hard to get ourselves back into the mix. We had decided to take the Southern route, feeling that our paddling was stronger than our portaging versus the strong teams in the race. But it was a tough call to make and difficult to know which way would be faster. It looked as though about half the teams went on the southern route while the other half went north.  As it turned out, the Northern route, despite having more portaging, was about 10 to 20 minutes faster (based on teams were paddling with before the split in routes). We managed to get off the paddle tied for 5th place in just over 5 ½ hours. 

Our paddle track (in red) on the Southern route vs. the Northern route (in blue)

 After a quick transition to the bike, we headed out for a quick hammer session in 5th place. We posted a fast time on this section lasting just about 1 ½ hours and maintained our 5th place overall. After another speedy transition, we set out in 4th place for what we knew would be a long and challenging section of the race. We moved well through the bush, following our bearing and trying to match any features we could to the map. Everything seemed to be going well, until we came across a set of train tracks. While this was helpful in the sense of being a feature that we could easily find on the map (although we wouldn’t be sure where we were on the tracks), it was not at all where we expected to be. This was confirmed by the navigator staring into his map, slowly moving his eyes further away from the intended target, and finally finding the train tracks on the map – followed by a less-than-enthusiastic “oh sh*t…”. What had started as a b-line through the bush to try and catch the leaders quickly became an exercise in navigating to find another big feature so we could confirm where we were – not an easy thing to do in this area! 

Taking the scenic route (in red) to the first trekking CP!
 After finally re-orienting ourselves and getting back on track, we eventually made it to the first trekking CP, only to find out that we had lost about 1 ½ hours to the lead teams. We refocused and pushed on the get the rest of the trekking CPs as quickly as possible. At many points in the trek we were faced with the decision to swim across a long narrow channel of water (usually about 50m – 100m wide) or to contour around (sometimes 500m or more). Earlier in the evening we chose the swim option, but as it got dark we opted most of the time for the contouring. However, this did not preclude us from multiple romps through the muddy, swampy areas that seemed to be everywhere. We finally finished the trek about 3 ½ hours behind the leaders and in 9th place.

Getting close to the finish line!
The final transition was slower than the previous two, as we were wet, cold, and somewhat disappointed to be so far behind the leaders. But we pushed on to the final section of the race knowing we were strong on the bike and were hopeful that we could gain back some of the ground we lost in the trek. The bike ride was challenging and quite cold at times overnight - particularly when we were on the open road or wading through swamps. But we rode well and managed to make up some ground for the most part. Unfortunately we struggled to find one particular trailhead that we thought was in a gravel pit, but turned out to be just before the gravel pit. However, we were still able to cross the finish line in 5th place in the co-ed division and 7th place overall.

While this was certainly not our best race, even a bad day on an adventure race course is still a good day J. We had some real highlights and some great challenges as well during the race and unfortunately this time we came out on the wrong end of some difficult navigation. But we still had a great time and worked well together. It was an unexpected and welcome opportunity for us to get in one more race before the adventure racing world championships in early November. It was great to race with Ryan and hopefully we will get another chance down the line to race with him again. But for now, it’s time to turn our sights to the few final weeks of training for the world championships!

What a great spot for a checkpoint!

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