For the Mattawa race we had the good fortune (some people would really question this) of being very close to the homes of my brother and my sister. This gave us a base to meet at Wednesday night and a chance to meet our new teammates. Manon lived up to the impression I had gotten from our conversations prior to the race. She is a crazy, free spirited (she drives an orange Honda Element need I say more) french chick who is in great shape and probably belongs on a better team. Keith is an intelligent (I know I am not sure how he ended up on our team either) and fit fun teammate that although he is a math whiz he still has trouble figuring out Dave's use of reciprocal compass bearings.
Thursday, September 18, 2003 and it is time for gear check. Everything is going well until all of a sudden at the check for medical supplies they do something I have never seen before, they check the expiry dates on the medical supplies. Never being one to medicate myself I did not even realize medication had expiry dates. So once the trip to the pharmacy was done we breezed through the rest of the gear check. Then came the race briefing and the bad news. Fed Ex had lost the race maps and we wouldn't see the race maps until 9:00pm at the earliest. So we headed back to our cabin at the Eco-Centre and tried to prepare for the race, which was going to start at 8:00am at Lake Temogami an almost two hour drive away with maps our not. At 9:00pm Thursday evening the team captains were gathered at the Eco-Centre to get our first series of maps that would take us through the paddling section and were told to be back at midnight to receive the rest of the maps. Once we had done all our race prep we decided to get some sleep and work on the maps on the way to the race in the morning.
Friday, September 19, 2003 the race starts with a 43km paddle down Lake Temogami and onto Red Cedar Lake and the TA and Cp1 at Loon Bay. The paddle (and swim for Manon) didn't go so well as we ended it 9 hours later in 31st place over an hour behind the main pact. Some of that was due to an ill advised attempt at a short cut that turned out to be impassible so we turned around and got back on course. Although it might have been discouraging to fall behind so early the team took it in stride knowing that there was a lot of race left and the important sections were still to come.
Sure enough we headed into the 100km biking section and soon started to make up ground. Inspired by the lunacy of watching Manon and her no brakes style of attacking the downhill sections of the Hydro line trail we moved up quickly. Even despite my continual high-speed dismounts (at one time Keith calculated it to be once every 1.4 kms) we fought through the muddy wet conditions left from the remnants of hurricane Isabel, crossed the raging Tomiko River (Manon thought this would be a good time to go for another swim), and by the time we reached Cp2 we had moved up a few spots. From here we continued on bikes but on much better roads except for the point at which we had to carry them through a cut over. But it was on the other side of the cut over that Manon had a revelation. She had never seen the northern lights before and the clearing skies put on a display I am sure she will never forget. Mostly because we will never let her forget the fact that a girl that spent time growing up in Sudbury not only hadn't seen the northern lights before but also had never even heard of them.
We arrived at TA 2 after about 13 hours of riding to find that we had gained 10 positions since the paddle and were now in a respectable 21st. We took the chance to get 45 minutes of sleep, some warm food and dry clothes. Now we were heading into the 28km trek with a minimum of time spent examining the maps and had to chose between a short route that included an 7.5km bushwhack or a considerably longer trek on roads with just 3kms of bushwhack that might put us into a swamp. After working with team Tree Huggers for a while we reached Cp5 and had to make our choice. We decided on the long bushwhack and headed into the deep forest hoping to find a few trails. There were no trails to be found but we made our first objective after about 3kms of bushwhacking, a little lake where we stopped to eat and then took a bearing on a road 4.5kms away. We headed off as the light was fading and Dave realized that one of his water bottles had gone missing. Then mid way through the night near disaster struck as a branch snapped back and hit Manon square in the eye. Her eye quickly swelled up and the look of pain was obvious on her face. But she showed her toughness once again and never complained and just waited for her eye to clear so she could see again. I didn't do so well though, the site of pain was a little too much for my delicate constitution and I got dizzy, started sweating and had to sit down. Once I had recovered from her injury (usually it takes the site of blood to get me to react like that) we were off again and thanks to the great work of our navigator we emerged from the forest onto the road we were aiming for within feet of where we had drawn it on the map.
From here it was a short walk up some roads to Cp6 where we met up with team Canadian Outback and former teammate Nathalie Cote. Her team had done a good job of recovering from a teammates illness during the biking section and was ready to make a push for the finish. We left that Cp and headed down a set of roads with confusing intersections not listed on the maps but slowly made all the right decisions and stayed on track. Then a familiar problem crept up on us. Manon was starting to hallucinate (mysterious lunch pails in the ditch and rock that appeared to be bags of flour) and the sleep monster was attacking her hard. Despite her confused state she was still able to recite her motto (water wears down rock not because it is strong but because it is persistent) so we knew she was okay. Somehow I forgot that I was carrying a camera and failed to get a picture of her stumbling around on her walking sticks. Once we were confident that we were still heading in the right direction the strangest thing happened. We started to run. Here we are 40 hours into the longest race of any of our lives and we are jogging to the next TA so we can get more sleep.
After running along for a while we reached the TA at about 4:30am Sunday after about 18 hours of trekking. We got about half an hour of sleep eat some pizza and headed off on a 28km bike ride at about 15 minutes before the cut-off. We worked like a team on a mission, lined up single file drafting for speed. We blazed through that section in about an hour and a half and reached the bike drop at Cp8. Then things got interesting again as we really hadn't seen this section of the map yet as our support crew had plotted this part of the race. We had to make choices on the fly as to which route to take to the zip line at Cp9. It was listed as a 6km trek but the easiest route we could see was to go a little further on roads through Cp10 and then catch a trail to the zip. We got a little spread out along this section as Manon's exceptional running ability was setting a pace that was giving the rest of us trouble keeping up. Once through Cp10 Manon and I keep going to the top of a large hill where we thought there would be a trail to the zip. Dave and Keith joined us there and we headed in a road that appeared to be headed in the right direction. When that road ended at a pond we headed back to a branch that we had passed a few minutes ago. That branch ended similarly so we headed back to another branch that headed in and again it ended without a sign of the zip. We started to bushwhack but quickly turned (at this point we were probably within 400 metres of the zip) around to head back down the hill to find another trail. All this was wasting tons of time and we were thinking with our feet instead of our brains as we were a little mentally challenged due to the lack of sleep. Once we had walked up the trail at the bottom of the hill and found that it too led to a bushwhack we finally realized there was no avoiding it and headed in. Then about 30 minutes into the bushwhack a big whoops! Manon's helmet had gone missing and the search was on. Dave led me back to a stream that we had crossed and I found the spot we went across it. From there we found our trail and called Manon and Keith to join us. Once we had linked up again we headed down the trail and there it appeared, the helmet was lying on the ground where we had stopped to share water. Back on track we headed for the riverbank and followed it up to the rapids below the zip line. The bank was a maze of steep rocks, cliffs and caves. But when we reached the zip we realized that we were 150 feet below it at the base of a cliff. Wiser teams turned around and gave up at that point but Max Payne was not deterred and made our way to the top to find out that we were the last team on course and only the 15th team to make it to the zip line. After being given the option of being paddled out to Cp10 by the staff at the zip line we decided that we would try to trek our way out by the 4:00pm racecourse closing. So after a quick zip we headed off on a trek to Cp10. We bushwhacked our way quickly to a road and found ourselves out at the Cp by about 3:40pm checked in and off the course a mere 12km bike ride and 9km paddle from the finish line. Unfortunately the confusion surrounding our trek to the zip had cost us the chance to finish the course but that didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the team for the job we had done and the 15th place finish we had achieved.
Once again I heard those magic words, we should do this again next year. I have been blessed since starting racing to have raced with some really terrific people and this team was no different. Manon's amazingly positive attitude and fun loving spirit really energized the team and kept us laughing through out the race. Keith consistently put out maximum effort and really seemed to be enjoying himself the whole time, heck he made it look easy and watching him trying to decipher Dave navigation technique always put a smile on my face. Dave once again did a flawless job of navigating and put up with some nasty blisters and not all of them were on his feet (enough said). All this has me anxious to race again and I hope to do it with all my teammates from this year somehow next year. Once again thanks to everyone who made this year possible.
Oh and I can't finish this without saying a big thanks to Dennis, Robert (even if he wouldn't use his badge and gun to slow down the other teams) and Charlotte for there help with support and lodging. They did a terrific job and the dry clothes during the race were a great help (sorry Charlotte for the mess in the laundry).
As always these race reports are how I saw the race and even still I tend to forget so much. I know that there is probably tons of things going on that I missed so if you have any comments please feel free to add them.
Back to Keith Pomakis' interest in Adventure Racing.