Team: Manon Roy, Keith Pomakis, Dave Haavaldsrud, Andre Gaudreau
Support Crew: David Jaremy
Somebody had the bright idea to go all the way to Charlevoix, Quebec to do a race (I believe that was me), why not it is just an 18-hour drive. Although I must admit it is a little more strategically located for a few of my teammates who live in something called civilization. Nevertheless the distances involved would only cause a few minor problems with logistics, but most of those seemed to have more to do with confusion relating to our less then ideal grasp of the French language and their interesting highway signs. David J., David H., and I got on our way Wednesday morning with the hopes of making our way to Perth, On by later that evening. Just to make things more fun David H. decided that we should add an extra 125 km to our journey so that we could bring his sweet little dog Riley (did I say sweet, I meant yappy mutt or as Manon would say ugly cat) to Sudbury to be reunited with its intended owner his daughter Brittany. I must admit though witnessing the hand-over along side a very busy section of highway 17 was definitely worth the extra mileage and even the scratches on David Js legs (although I guess you should ask him about that).
Once that was out of the way we proceeded without further incident or excitement and arrived in Perth by midnight. Thursday morning came quickly and it was now time to join up with the rest of the team for the road trip to Mont Ste. Anne. I selflessly gave up the keys to my truck and sent Dave and Dave ahead to Ottawa to pick up Keith and his gear, while I waited to catch Manon as she drove through Perth. The idea that we would meet up outside of Ottawa and save some time was squashed by the need to transfer gear into Manons Element as my little truck was bursting at the seams. The realization that we were going to have to make it all fit for the ride back plus add myself to the inside of the truck was a concern to some.
Now we were off on our way to Quebec with nothing but the confusion of negotiating the maze of french highways to stop us, no problem with an accomplished RTN navigator in one car and a true Quebecer in the other. Well at least Manon was able to find her way, and I take no credit for this as I had my own problems driving in Quebec City. Alas the little white truck with our navigator kept getting left behind and took the chance to do some scenic touring of downtown Quebec City. Eventually we all arrived at Mont Ste. Anne and checked into our excellent condo. It is a rare treat in these races to have a bed for each of us and it sure helps even if you still cant sleep through the usual noise.
Hey its Friday, that means it is race day. We actually got away fairly early this time and it looked like we would even have time to complete gear check before the paddling clinic that Manon and I were scheduled to take part in at noon. Oh, oh where did the little white truck go this time? It is only a short 6 km drive to Canyon Ste. Anne and the gear check area dont tell me our navigator got lost again! Now Manon and I are really getting concerned, they have maps and road signs and everything and they still cant find the place. Eventually they did make it claiming to have missed the signs the first time due to traffic. We then start the registration process but we are now not able to finish it before Manon and I must head off to the paddling clinic. The clinic was very useful despite the fact that we would not get to do any paddling in the race. The best part was trying to keep the very tippy racing kayaks afloat.
After our brief paddling lesson we returned to finish the gear check only to find that the rest of the team had disappeared into the canyon somewhere. I was able to find Keith quickly but it took about 45 minutes to catch up with the two Daves. At which point I was quite animated about the need to finish the gear check quickly. Everything else went smoothly and I was off to Quebec City to acquire the rental van that we had booked for a support vehicle. Well after being sent from one rental location to another and then finding out that Enterprise had given away our van already we headed to our backup plan. I had also booked a van at National but had originally planned not to use them because the rate was a little higher and the location wasnt as convenient. Luckily I had not cancelled the reservation so we still had a support vehicle waiting for us. But all this extra running around meant that by the time we got back to Mont Ste. Anne the race briefing was just coming to an end, no big deal I trusted my teammates to tell me if there was anything important I should know.
Now it was back to the condo to prepare the maps and chart our course. It quickly became apparent that this was going to be quite the race. I had never seen maps like these before with such tightly wrapped contour lines, it was obvious that we were going to have to tap into that inner mountain goat in all of us. Also with the white water canoeing, rafting and the via ferratta this was going to be a very interesting race as we would be doing a few things for the first time. Everything went seemingly well with the maps and we had what we thought would be an effective route all done in no time. This and the change to a 4:00 am start actually gave us the chance to get some sleep before the race for once. Although I was again unable to fall asleep quicker then Dave H. so any idea I had of getting extra rest was squashed. One of these days I will remember the earplugs.
Before long it was time to head out to the start of the race. It was an interesting ride up and down the hills along the St. Lawrence through the fog but with the skilful driving of Dave J. we arrived one of the very first teams and had plenty of time to prepare for the start. A little bit more then we expected actually as the bus bringing some of the teams to the start line had missed a turn and was a lost for a while. Eventually they showed up and the race got underway about 40 minutes late, but this meant it was now daylight and the headlights could be put away for a while. The race started with what looked like a straightforward trek to CP1, which was located at a very small lake, about 4 kms east of a road that we started running down. The brisk run separated the teams a little but most everyone had the same plan to head into the bush after crossing a bridge over a little creek which marked the best spot to climb the large hill/cliff that was running parallel to the road. Once into the bush we quickly found a trail following our bearing and we seemed to be making good time. The quad trail had several new sections cut to find better ways around rough ground and when following one of these it quickly became apparent that it was not turning back to the original trail. Against the better judgement of our team-mates (sorry) Dave and I convinced them to follow the trail we were on a little further to see if it would turn back to our bearing. Eventually it became obvious to us all that this trail was headed somewhere else and we decided to bushwhack back towards our original bearing.
Before long we had come across a little creek that looked like it might be the north to south creek that leads both into and out of the little lake we were heading to so we guessed that we were south of the lake and followed it north. After following this creek for a while we came upon a trail along side a larger creek and that is when the fun began. Things were no longer matching what was on the map very well. This trail led to a little pond by a swamp that looked suspiciously like the one where the checkpoint was suppose to be. But it wasnt quite right and there was no sign of the checkpoint, even worse there was no other pond or swamp like this on the map. The map was old though and there were signs of beaver activity as well. After searching around the area for a creek that might lead us to the proper checkpoint we returned to the swamp and found another team that was convinced that they were at the checkpoint. After discussing options with them for a while we headed off on our own back to our original north south creek and headed south on it this time. Before long it started to get smaller and smaller until it disappeared underground entirely. This was not the right creek! Running out of time and options we turned back to our original bearing that if nothing else would lead us out to a road and eventually to the TA at Cp 2. After some pretty awful bushwhacking through a balsam grove with severe blowdown we emerged at trail by a cabin at a little lake. Hey we just stumbled upon Cp 1. It quickly became apparent that we had fallen victim to our old problem off thinking we had gone further than we actually had while bushwhacking and had we just stayed on our bearing when we came to the first little pond we would have made it to the Cp a few hours quicker, dooh!
Our next navigational decision was much better as we followed a quad trial out to a road and then headed down it to the TA at Cp 2. Several teams had decided to bushwhack up and over a ski hill to reach the TA so we gained back some of the time we lost in the first part of the trek. Once at the TA we rushed through not too badly as we were focused on getting to the next TA in time to avoid the dark zone. This next section was to be 54 kms of biking to the next TA where you had to arrive by 7:00pm to start the paddle and we had just 4 hours to do it in. Most of this bike was on either good gravel roads or even better paved roads with only a couple small sections of quad trails. We started strong and after a while we tried the bike tow for the first time. It worked well and did a good job of keeping the team together on the hill climbs. We made pretty good time on the way to Cp 3 and everything looked to be on schedule for us to make the cut-off. The roads improved after Cp 3 and we got into a fast section with some good descents on albeit somewhat rough gravel road. This led to a small problem when one of my two bottles of Gatorade (the full one) bounced out of the holder on a fast and steep section. There was no going back for it, but to further complicate things my hydration pack had leaked and soon after leaving the TA and I had nothing to show for it but some very wet pants. No problem I still had some Gatorade left in the one bottle and it was just a short 54 km ride.
Well nothing ever goes quite as planned in adventure racing and after a short detour we were back on course but our odometers were saying we should be getting close but the map was saying something else. It quickly became apparent that we had added up the distances wrong when calculating the total of this bike leg and it was going to be an additional 20 kms to the TA. This was going to be a problem as not only was I starting to cramp a little from lack of liquids, but also our chances of making the 7:00pm cut-off were now very much in doubt. Manon was able to give me some extra Gatorade to solve that little problem but there was not much we could do to cover the extra distance in time. We arrived at the TA about 40 minutes late, ironically about the same amount of time they started the race late by. We thought our chances of finishing the race as a ranked team were gone but for some reason, maybe the late start to the race or the fact that they had designed a course that had the possibility of sending teams onto the St. Lawrence at night but we were informed that we would be moved ahead to the next TA and allowed to continue as a ranked team. We just would not finish in front of a team that had completed that section. So with our spirits lifted by that news we headed off to TA 3 / Cp 7 at the base of Le Massif ski hill. It comes by its name honestly as it is the highest vertical drop on a ski hill east of the Rockies in North America. And guess what we get to do. Yep we get to trek all the way to the top. From there we headed into the bush again and headed for a trail leading to the marshalling point. In this section we had everything from power line trails to thick bushwhacks and due to a missing little pamphlet with some cross-country ski trails on it we didnt quite nail the trek here either. After waking up one of the race organizers parked along the road that we had to cross but not at the marshalling point we headed back into the bush to find the right spot. Once through the Mp we headed onto a section of logging roads that would take us most of the way to the next TA. It was now daybreak on Sunday morning and we could not afford any more mistakes if we were going to finish the rest of the course on time. Things went well through this section and we followed road and trials almost right to the river we would have to cross. There was just on small section of bushwhacking down a hill across a creek over the next hill to the rather wide and fast flowing river. Crossing the river was a bit of a challenge as the current was quite strong in places but with some good teamwork we all made it to the other side safely and a bit wet. We crossed at a pretty good place though as there was a cabin on this side with a driveway leading right to the road that we had to follow to the TA.
Soon enough we were at the TA but this was the one where we had planned to make our hot meal. The little stove was not really ideal for heating things up the way we had it so it was taking too long. This and general fatigue slowed this transition down a little too much and we were going to have to hurry through the next section. It didnt look too bad, as it was just about 40 kms of biking over what looked to be mostly good roads. But shortly after leaving the TA the road turned a little hilly. The only problem was the hill seemed to go only one way and that was up and up and up some more! On closer inspection of the map it was obvious that we had two mountains to climb over and there was little to no relief in between. Plus the second mountain was even steeper and the road much worse. Needless to say we probably didnt ride our bikes as much as we pushed them up and over these hills, and it was hot out. But once on the other side the epic 8 kms of hill climb turned into 16 kms of radical descent. We frequently reached speeds of well over 60 kms an hour on gravel roads! Things were starting to move quickly now and we kept the pace up over the next 20 kms leading to the white water rafting.
We reached the white water rafting with about 4 hours left in the race so we had to keep the pace up. On paper it looked easy just 6 kms of rafting with one 100-metre portage in the middle of it. In reality these boats are heavy, a little slow and thank god very stable. The rapids were a blast and if you stayed to the deep and nasty parts you could get through without getting stuck too often. Although you did risk getting ejected this way and sure enough that is what happened to me. We got into a big hydraulic and it launched me out of the back of the raft. But I kept one hand on the side of the raft, one hand holding the paddle and one foot hung up in the straps of my pack that although tied to the boat had still managed to come out with me. Before long we were through the worst of that rapid and I was able to pull myself back into the raft. After that the hardest part was keeping the boats from getting hung-up on rocks and knowing when we were suppose to get out of the river. Oh no I almost forgot the hard part was carrying the boats to the top of the hill after we reached the end of the paddle. Did I mention how heavy they are and how big the hills are around there?
Now we were back on our feet for a short trek to the ropes section, but we were still running short on time. We now had less then 2 hours left to complete the race as a ranked team. And to make matters worse we missed the trail down by the river that we were suppose to take and were now headed along a trail that did not give us the great view of the canyon and the seven chutes that we were told were spectacular. And as we approached the canyon from our alternate route it was necessary to climb over a couple barbwire fences and walk past a few no trespass signs. Of course those signs were not for us as we had permission to be in the area for the race, at least that is what we told ourselves. We were now back at the canyon and quickly located the ropes site so it was time to go have fun. We started by walking across a gorge on a wire bridge that consisted of one wire for your feet and two for your hands. Plus you were tethered to each of the two high wires to catch you if you fall. That part was easy enough although with more then one person on the bridge at once it made clipping and unclipping a little harder. Once across the bridge you moved next to the rappel, which was about 100 to 150 feet down a cliff to the rock climbing section. After finishing the rappel you clipped into a wire that ran along the side of a rock cliff and led you back up to the top of the cliff and the end of the ropes section. This is where things got interesting; our beautiful sunny day had just quickly turned to rain as we started the rock climb. The wet rocks plus an at least ten foot section with no foot or hand holds was right at the start of it. I went first and was able to cross it by pulling myself along the wire but it was hard and I was concerned Manon might have trouble so I waited on the other side for her. Sure enough this section was a challenge for her but after a few anxious moments and with Keith helping from one end and myself pulling from the far side we handled the obstacle like a true team. Manon was quite surprised by her reaction to hanging on to a wire fifty feet in the air but I had seen something like it before and it is not very unusual considering that it was 35 hours into the race with no sleep. And that is the excuse I am using for what I did just before the end of the rock climbing. While retrieving a glove that Dave dropped into a crevasse I jumped down not realizing that the wire I was attached to would be pulled down with me and in the process clipping Manons neck on the way by, whoops! Sorry about that Manon just one of those things that happen when you act before putting your brain in gear. Luckily she was not injured or at least not that she would say, once again I have to admit I have some pretty tough team-mates.
Soon enough everyone had finished the ropes section and all that was left was a mad dash for about 200 metres to the finish line. It is surprising how quick you can move when the end is so close and the time is counting down. We sprinted across the line with just 10 minutes to spare before the 36 hours given to finish the course as a ranked team. And in ninth place overall to boot, our first top ten finish in a 36hr race.
After all that the only thing left to do was get our butts back home. As I suspected with careful packing the little white truck took all the gear and team-mates as required and returned us safely home. Despite my driving the wrong way down one-way streets in Quebec City, not to mention the red light I ran (when in Rome).
As always none of this would have been possible without the great work of our support crew. Mr. Dave Jaremy did an excellent job once again and even got some terrific shots of the team in action, especially during the ropes section. He even managed not to burn any shoes this time! For all this I will forgive him for submitting that article on the team to the local newspaper. Also I want to thank and congratulate my team-mates on a job well done once again. Keith was his usual steady self, always working hard and getting it done with the minimum of fuss. You cant ask for a more steady and reliable team-mate, and he is fun to race with as well. Manon was once again the heart and soul of the team; she keeps our spirits high and the pace even higher. Not to mention how helpful it was to have a bi-lingual team-mate in this race, especially someone who could navigate the streets of Quebec. Dave did his thing once again and put up with the pain of a bad knee on the bike without complaint. But really Dave it is okay, just because we dont make it to the advanced trekking section of the course doesnt mean you have to take us on one anyways. Heck I even did a better job with the teamwork thing this time although as Keith would know I still have to work on the communication thing a little more (like discussing the meaning of paddle left before we get to the rapids!). Thanks once again to everyone for making this crazy sport so much fun. Oh and thanks to the organizers of RTN and their volunteers who always put on such a first class event!
Back to Keith Pomakis' interest in Adventure Racing.