After the disppointing finish to the APEX race in May, I was on the hunt for a use for all the endurance training I have been doing this year. I had it sorted, a Bob Graham attempt on the last weekend in June should do it!
Then 4 days before this I got an email from Eoin Keith (Irish AR), who I had met at APEX, asking if I would like to race at Raid the North Extreme (RTNX) with him and Thomas Etter (USA). I said yes and joined Eoin, Thomas and Nick Harper (Team Accelerate) in Canada to form Team Breast Cancer Awareness (BRAT)!
This was a bit of an unknown in terms of racing for me. I had done up to 3.5/4days of non stop Adventure Racing (AR) before but this would be slightly different, a true wilderness expedition race..
On Friday 22nd July we were all in Nelson, registering and packing! We got the maps on the Friday evening and immediately set to work. With the aid of some yellow highlighters and google earth we plotted what we thought would be the best route through the thick forests we had to negotiate en route. On Saturday it was time to leave Nelson and head to Kaslo, the pre race base. We were amazingly chilled at this point, boxes packed and handed in, maps and routes plotted, bikes fettled....what do you do the evening before a race without a last minute panic? Eat and sleep!
10am Sunday was start time! The first leg of the race was on bikes and it wasn't a gentle start with over 1500m climb and no descent! 3.5hrs later we had transitioned onto the first trek and this is where I got my first taste of 'bush whacking'. The trek started fast and I felt good, walking fast up the hills and trotting along and down. Nick was suffering a bit with the heat so we needed to make sure he was drinking lots and dipping his cap into every available river. Not long into the off road section we saw a team that Thomas got excited about, aparently they were probably going to do quite well so it was good to be up with them. The first part of the creek had a trail which made things relatively easy going. We caught Team Technu here and now I knew we were going alright!
Then came the bush bashing, we started into this in the daylight (just) at the end of day 1 and emerged from it well and truely in the light....The forest was made up of lots and lots of dense trees, some of them fallen, occassionaly sporting rhododendron type plants as well and where it looked nice going, it was actually covered in devils club, one of the tallest spikey plants I have ever had the pleasure of running through. We moved at less than 500m per hour that night - and that was good going!
Towards dawn we spotted the French team high above us on the slope and being tired figured it was time to climb. A slight nav error, oops, we lost a couple of hours here which possibly made the fight with the undergrowth worse, but eventually we made it out of the woods and onto the snow! Checkpoint 2 in 12th position despite the error!
After a long descent (on which I saw my first sleepmonster, a bus waiting to take us down the hill) and a transition not to be proud of, it was off on the bikes again. Another few hours climbing but this time we got to descend (very fast :-) ) down to a couple of ghost towns, the last sign of civilisation we would see for days! Next, you guessed it, up up up to Idaho Peak. By the top the weather had changed, we were soaked, there was snow on the ground so a few bits of hike a bike and day 2 was over. Early on Tuesday we were 'whizzing' carefully down the single track off Idaho Peak, it was such fun but to one side there appeared to be a bottomless pit, the ground dropped away quite dramatically! You wouldn't want to get a crash wrong up there! Looking at the photos of it in daylight there were some stunning views to be had!
Transitions were much more slick by now and we left on leg 6 in around 10th position, hot on the tail of 2 teams, the French team from the first trek, and Team Checkpoint Zero. Before leaving we had a bit of banter with Geoff (Race Director) who promised us worse bush whacking in the aptly named Valhalla Provincial Park....I showed him my legs and his eyes nearly popped out :-P
This was the decider! The toughest thing I have ever done! The trek started off with 15-20km on trail up through the woods. We were moving well and caught both teams ahead, I was feeling amazingly good and strong at this point. At Beatrice Lake the decision came, which way round the lake to bushwhack? The French went left while we, along with Checkpoint Zero went right. We found a bear track for a bit which made life pretty good....but eventually it ended. Pete from Checkpoint Zero took the lead, I need to practice my bushwhacking skills! He can move through that stuff almost like it isn't there... If it was fern based, rock based or even thick fight based I could keep up, sadly most of the bush was fallen trees covered in devils club...and it was all I could do to keep up. This meant 8-10hrs of extreme effort with little or no time for food and drink as my hands were needed for climbing over trees! Then we reached THE river, freezing meltwater and a dodgy looking tree to slide over. On the other side the forest became fight, much to my relief as it gave me a bit of time to eat and drink! I wasn't last anymore!
However not long into this and it was time to make camp (10pm day 3) as Paul from checkpoint was hypothermic. A fire was made and I decided to change the plan of leaving my wet trousers on until we were out of the bush as I got pretty cold the minute we stopped...On with the dry fleece leggings!
We spent the next few hours getting thoroughly warm and watching headlights on the oposite side of the lake weave up and down and up and down and stop in a fire....
At around 1:30am we started to make a move - there were some steep climbs interspersed with thick fight to negotiate before, just as it was getting light, we left the forest for another challenge! There was another option around a lake. Right was a steep scree slope or 2 with some more bush to negotiate, ending it what looked like a silly climb without a rope. Left was some even steeper slightly melting snow which ended in the thickest forest to climb through imaginable.....We went right...thankfully the climb wasn't half as bad as it looked, although still a bit of a challenge. At the top we crossed the river and there were the French team who had gone the opposite way around both lakes, not much in it then...
This was where Nick started to have trouble. After getting out the bush I was feeling great, ready to tackle the next two massive snowy climbs! However it was soon aparent that we needed to stop again, so around 5mins from the Lodge we kipped for 40mins. After this Nick could move again so it was onwards and upwards, then downwards (weeee shoe skiing!), then up even more, before bumsliding into the next control! It took around 10-12hours to reach the next checkpoint, which was a nice relief after the 25hrs it had taken to get the last one! By now Nick was properly struggling, so we got some food into him and I got the tow out. We left the checkpoint with the French in joint 7th/8th place. 20minutes later and Nick bonked. Survival bag out, sugar and caffiene pumped into him, run tow out and we pushed on down the hill. Nick had been complaining about not getting to see sleepmonsters...well now he did....my shoes were apparently fish and were chatting to him all the way down the hill!
Then came the most bizarre bit of racing I have done. 18km of flat forest track - utterly shattered, Nick was towed by Thomas but it was too fast to keep up, I propped Eoin up as he was falling asleep, but then I was falling asleep....sleepmonsters in every bush! Then we hit a bridge, this woke me up, I knew where we were! I knew how far we had come (7km) and how far to go (11km) doh! I also knew that my feet were trashed. I hoped it was just swelling but it felt like a massive blister all over the bottom of both feet. It got worse and worse as we counted down the kilometers. My arms did most of the work through my poles...
Nick suggested we stop but I wanted more than anything to get to transition as I wasn't sure I'd be able to start on foot again...at least the next section was a bike!
At 3:30am we made it! Tent up, we all collapsed...the deciding leg over, we were out of Valhalla!
A couple of hours later and I had my feet inspected - thank god it was just swelling...although I got another comment or two about the colour of my legs!
I was sorted and ready to go! Nick looked like he was a gonner....he sat looking at the pasta meal in front of him, trying to work out how to eat it....
We were pretty sure this was it! But somehow he worked it out and the pasta made the world of difference! I patched up his blisters, we got him onto the bike and were off, next stop, zip line with bike! As we left checkpoint zero arrived in transition. A wrong turn at the end of the track meant they had bivvyed out.
Then came the, now classic, climb. Nick couldn't get himself and his bike up it, so we adopted new tactics, the guys took 2 bikes each and I got the run tow out and pulled Nick upwards. On the steeper sections I dropped Nick off as it flattened off and ran back to help push the bikes. Amazingly we didn't lose much time to surrounding teams here. 100m from the top Nick crashed big time! Food shovelled in again but it wasn't having an effect. After 15mins I suggested we move, I got yelled at, 5minutes later I attached the tow and we regrouped at the top. A bit more food and a sit and Nick was back on the bike. Down to transition in 8th position, where we discovered no gear boxes....
A logistical nightmare with 2 teams needing rescue from Beatrice lake resulted in 12hrs of sitting in transition without gear bins. A good rest later and we levered Nick into a canoe. We left the catamaran bars behind opting for the 'faster' kayak paddles....mistake...Nick was cooked and Thomas had to paddle them both down the 8-9hr leg...me and Eoin got to look at the pretty sunny views :-).
We lost some time (20-30mins? probably more...) to the other teams on this leg which was disappointing, more disappointing, but not unforeseen, when we got out of the boats Nick's first words were 'I can't carry on'. However it was an amazing effort that he had gone further than the end of Valhalla. We had made his body move for 2 stages further than it was actually capable of, amazing! The three of us then set off on the last leg - a very long bike leg as we were now waaay too late to make the trek cut off.
We flew round this leg, I don't know if I have ever ridden a bike as fast! When we reached the seven summits - the final climb and single track - my stomach gave up and I felt very rough for the rest of the route (6.5hrs). Still the views at dawn on the seven summits route were fantastic! A blast down the forest tracks (after we added in a last bit of extra climb by accident oops) and into Trail for the finish. The best feeling in the world was getting to the end!
It was a bit of a case of so close yet so far, but this race has given me loads of confidence for the longer, tougher races. I found I felt stronger as the race went on, which is good to know, and although there were some very low points, I came through them and got to that finish line.
When I got home I found our new house was pretty much an adventure race, you had to climb over things to get anywhere and sleep on the floor....Now we have a bed so proper recovery can begin...in between building the furniture that is :-). I can't wait for the next adventure!
Pictures courtesy of Raven Eye Photography.