Name of Race: Wilderness Traverse
Date of Race: June 5-6, 2010
Location of Race: Haliburton Highlands, Ontario
Type of Event: Adventure Racing
Distance/Length of Event: 24-30 hours
Bob Miller’s highly anticipated inaugural Wilderness Traverse was widely regarded as the most competitive adventure race this side of the Rockies in Canada in a long time and we were excited to be up against some stellar competition the weekend of June 5th and 6th. Most racers were from the home province of Ontario, but the 19-team race attracted people from as far as BC, New Brunswick, Michigan and Quebec.The 24-30 hour race was revealed as a “back-to-basics” approach to adventure racing where navigation, route choices and teamwork would be key to a successful race. The backdrop would be the remote, scenic and typical Canadian Shield landscape of the Haliburton Highlands.Our team arrived Friday, registered, sorted our TA bins and relaxed before race briefing at 8pm. One of the things we already really liked about this race was that the competitor update given the week before the race indicated the order of disciplines (TREK, PADDLE, TREK, BIKE), where the TA bins would be and estimated time for each leg. It was so nice to be able to have all our food, clothes and gear prepped before we even got to the race site.
At the race briefing the maps were distributed (with pre-plotted CP’s on the map – another really nice timesaver that I wish would be done by more race organizers… I know, I know, some might consider plotting the correct UTM’s a part of the navigation… but it just gives me a headache and adds several hours usually to an already pressed timeline) and we were given 30 mins to go over them before Bob explained the course in more detail.
The course would start with an approximate 10-13km trek through an area scattered with lakes that would make route choice an early factor. Once at the first TA it would be into the canoes for a 36km paddle featuring no less than 15 different lakes or streams with a very tough 6-10km total of portaging. The second TA would take you onto the the last trek, which most teams would tackle at night, also containing several route choices around water and throwing in at least one 200m swim a necessity for most competitive teams. Finally 70-76km of biking would round out the course while teams navigated through a maze of very technical singletrack, ATV trails, gravel roads and powerline trails.
We plotted our route, waterproofed our maps (a necessity given our strategy would involve almost 700m of swimming!) and were in bed by 10:30pm. Definitely a record for earliest time to bed before a 24-hour race!
Photo courtesy Luis Moreira
After being treated to a delicious pancake breakfast at the host resort Sir Sam’s we were shuttled to the race start and at 8am the course was on! We started out leading the pack who chose the eastern route around the first lake. It was a bushwhack within a few minutes although we were able to pick up a portage between several lakes to help us use our advantage of being a “running” team. We came into the first CP in about an hour in 5th, about 10 mins behind the leaders who had chosen the western route around the lake and involved a swim. From CP1 it was a 3.5km bushwhack north to a road just north of a creek and 1-2km run west to the next CP2/TA1. We trekked on, already alone and on our bearing. After about an hour we crossed a creek and hit a road running E/W. My topo map did not display any parallel features south of our intended route so I assumed this was our road and we began running west. Shortly on the road, we saw The Shed team running the other way…. hmm…. that seems odd… But we kept running. We also didn’t see any other footprints in the muddy road but didn’t worry since we were so close to first at the last CP, and could be leading. After probably 2-3km of running our road started heading south and it was apparent we must be on the wrong road. We checked the supplementary map and realized there was a parallel road just 1km south of our intended road. Ugh! Stupid mistake by not looking at the other map and I was mad at myself early in a long race. We eventually made it to the right road and to CP2/TA1 but had lost almost 1.5 hours to the lead teams only 3.5 hours into the race and were ranked 11th now. We tried to keep our spirits high heading onto the paddle but we knew losing an hour to so many strong teams would be tough to make up, even if there was still another 20 hours of racing.
Once on the paddle we were treated some beautiful and isolated flatwater paddling. We tried to stay as efficient as possibly while transitioning between the paddling and portaging. We had a canoe-bag where we stored our pack and had our food in a mesh bag ready to go in the canoe. John and I had a lot of experience backcountry paddling so we decided to portage the canoes while Denise and James carried the heavy canoe bag, food and paddles. We would only eat while portaging and most of the time it would be Boost or Ensure so we could take in calories on the move.
Photo courtesy Luis Moreira
We were extremely fast compared to most team with this strategy and soon we started passing team after team. Soon we found ourselves up with some other strong teams including Milton Basement Racers, Infiterra Sports and Adrenaline Rush at a confusing portage around the halfway mark of the paddle. The three aforementioned teams had just lost almost an hour while portaging. This lit a fire in us knowing we had clawed our way back up the standings and we kept the pace strong, passing a few more teams on the paddle. Eventually we made it to the last section, a killer 2.5km hilly road portage where the mosquitoes were out on a vengeance. We almost lost our minds during this portage but sacrificed swatting the bugs and bites for speed. At the TA we learned we were now in 3rd, we had gained 8 spots in the paddle and were now about an hour behind the lead team. After being treated amazingly by the awesome volunteers (which had graciously offered us delicious spanikopita and coffee) we were off with only a few hours left of daylight for the final trek.
Photo courtesy Luis Moreira
Our route on the trek took us east and south along a road, which eventually turned into an ATV trail, which we continued to run until it veered east and we took a bearing south. Once at the furthest southern point of land from our point on Sherborne Lake and after taking 15-mins to confirm our location and pack our packs in garbage bags we swam 500m to the CP and back another 200m to the peninsula we need to be on to attack the next CP. The swim was nice, albeit very slow and the sun was out but we were pretty chilled getting out. We eventually warmed up trekking pretty fast and made it to the eastern shore of Nunikani Lake, where it would be a pretty simple bearing along the shore to the next CP. Night fell and shortly after we made it to CP7 with The Shed, who had caught up to us (but were unranked with an injury and continuing on as a threesome) and the 2nd place team Clinique du Pied Equilibre from Quebec. After CP7 we, along with Clinique, made the mistake of going around the wrong side of the dam, which John finally convinced me was incorrect (he was right!). We got back on track and once again ran into the team from Quebec, Clinique, who had asked us if we saw their map anywhere in the last trek since the CP! Nope, sorry! We continued thinking they might be following us given their map question and because they had the exact same route as us leaving the dam again but as it turns out they had found it (the navigator had put it in his Buff during a swim and forgot it was there!). We did eventually drop them and luckily came upon a nice winding snowmobile trail which we were able to run and took us right into the next CP and bike TA on Kennisis Lake.
We had a bit of a slow transition here, but managed to leave before Clinique was in, however, still an hour behind our friends of Untamed New England who were still leading (and apparently running a darn good race!). We made a wrong turn on the bike with the unranked Shed team but only lost 10 minutes and didn’t waste too much time. Eventually we made it into the trails of Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve where we steadily picked off the CP’s. While on the singletrack heading to CP13 we saw some lights approaching – it was finally the team we were chasing – Team Untamed New England. It was great to finally see the ghost we had been chasing for the past 20 hours! We gave them a “nice work” as we crossed path and took a look for fatigue on their faces… Nope… Damn! James took a note of the time we crossed path and since we had duplicated their route it was easy to calculate we were now only 30 mins behind them. We still had 20km or so left of biking and a lot of navigating left so the race was not over yet!
We put our heads down and gave it all until finally reaching a road that was supposed to take us to the powerlines. I was getting cold and it was raining so I requested a quick gore-tex break for a rainjacket. The area leaving the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve was tricky and we passed a fork which I didn’t consider an option given that our current road appeared to be well-travelled and heading in the correct bearing. We kept pressing on and started climbing, which also matched the topo, however, the bearing eventually started heading off bearing to the north and after looking at a lake feature on the map which didn’t match up on the map I made the call that we needed to turn around; we were on the wrong road. We lost probably 25-mins on this section but eventually made it back to the fork and around a non-descript gate to another road, which led us to the powerline trail. We knew our chances at 1st were probably shot, but had hoped Clinique had not passed us during my mistake (as it turned out only Untamed NE had made the correct turn the first time around at the fork and many teams continued on much further down the wrong road!).
Photo courtesy Luis Moreira
We made our way to through the powerline trail and eventually onto the roads where were cruised into the finish in the cold rain, congratulated by our friends on Untamed New England who nailed the course and won the first ever Wilderness Traverse. We returned the congratulations and quickly warmed up inside, sharing some race stories with them and trading route strategies. They had a near flawless race, which I don’t think any other team even came close to, and were well deserving of the win. We were happy with our 2nd place showing, especially given our big blunder early on and the very competitive field.
Only 8 teams finished the full course, with many dropping out Sunday morning due to extremely unusual cold temperatures and rain. But everyone I spoke with had a very positive experience and as the Wilderness Traverse “Beaver Trophy” was handed out at the awards ceremony, it was promised this would be the first of many more to come each summer. This was the most challenging, yet enjoyable, 24-hour course we’ve ever participated in and are excited to return in 2011. For full results, please click here.
Photo courtesy Luis Moreira