Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Play: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot finishes race!!!

Warning: this is a long read.....I hope you enjoy.

This crazy idea that Candice and I had almost two years ago came to pass. We signed up, we trained and than actually raced the race! And survived to tell the tale. After dropping the kids off at the sitters on Friday morning, I made my way over to pick up Grant (who had just joined our team a mere 3 weeks ago, considering this is a man who spends his time always in training, we were not in the least bit concerned about his ability to keep up for the race, if any thing we prayed we could keep up to him)
On our way to Candice's house, well we got a bit lost. Not a great start for our team.....we turned on the GPS and found the road we had somehow turned off of, still not sure how that happened.
Anyway, made it to her place, loaded up her gear and drove off (in the right direction) only to find out 8 minutes later we had left a critical piece of gear behind.....hmmm, another bad omen? 
We're making good time, make a quick stop to eat and pee, only to have the truck shut off TWICE in the middle of the drive. Is anyone else feeling nervous yet??? So, we have already gotten lost, forgot essential gear (OK, they were only keys to her mother's apartment where we had to drop off the dog, but still they were necessary!) and had a mechanical breakdown, 3 of the four things we were really hoping would not happen to us (the fourth were no injuries).
Fortunately, the rest of the drive up was uneventful, and we arrived at race HQ with time to spare. Although everyone else there looked like they belonged, gulp.
At this point I'm feeling pretty good, I'm not yet nervous, I'm telling myself I've trained, I got my gear, all will be well. 
And then we get the maps. All but the last 10km or so of the bike ride is trail.  Not my strength. I knew that it would be mostly trail, but figured it would be broken up with some gravel roads. Oh, and the trek? Pretty much no trail. OK, so alot of bushwhacking. Which mean little running. OK, I got this.
At the start line
We head back to the hotel, spend some time re-organising our packs, pull out the maps again, make some notes, mark some distances and bearings and slide into bed around midnight. The alarm at 5:30 am comes pretty quick. Back at race HQ for breakfast, jump on our bikes for the 3km ride to the start line.....count down 3, 2, 1....and we're off. 
We had positioned ourselves near the back of the pack, we have no illusions about our place here, the "pro-star" teams quickly take to the trail and disappear. It doesn't take long for us to be enjoying this ride on our own. About 12 km in, there are suddenly some teams coming towards us on the trail! We discover later, that many teams missed the turn off. Maybe our timing has saved us from making the same mistake. From this point, we end up leap frogging with a couple of other teams until we hit CP1.  We refill our water bottles, jump back on our bikes and continue on. The whole ride takes us 10 hours. This is by far the longest ride I have ever done, and the trail was tough. Lots of rock, a fair number of mud puddle crossings, lot's of sand (have you ever ridden in sand? It sucks) Single track, ATV trail, hydro cut.....but as the ride wore on, I could feel my confidence gaining. There were even a few times where I had this weird's like the line I ha to follow was lit up or something. I know that sounds really out there, maybe it was de-hydration, but hey, whatever gets you there. And the last 10km of gravel road? Don't assume the orange line on the map denotes a gravel road.....just sayin'
So we've made it to TA1.....and we get ice cream!! Best ice cream I've ever tasted. We quickly tear through our gear bin, change our socks, shoes and cycling shorts into long tights. We freshen up our water bladders, re-fold our maps, throw some food in our mouths, and we are off again. When we were plotting out our course the night before, we had decided to swim across the channel, hand rail the rest of the lake down, hit the portage trail and follow the shore to CP4....sounds easy right? The other option was taking the road to some trails and going from there. A longer distance, but maybe a safer bet? Even though the ride took us 2 hours longer than we had hopes, we decided to stick to our original plan, so we head down to the shore for a swim. Not relishing the idea of being wet when the sun went down (about 90 minutes away) we, well, let's just say we did not break the rule of taking our race bibs off.
Once on the other side we made pretty good time travelling along the shore of the lake, hit a "creek" that we had hoped would be an easy crossing. Maybe we should have looked a little harder for a place to cross, but ended up swimming again....through swampy, weedy smelly water. With our race bibs on.
A few minutes later is when it all went wrong. We hit another "creek" at the mouth of the lake, The sun was almost down. We didn't want to swim again. The longer, cleaner route across the mouth of the lake was one option. The narrower, but really swampy section was option two. The third option as we saw it was to hand rail the creek east to a small lake we could skirt around, follow the creek back to the shore of Gordon Lake and over to the CP. About a 3km detour. That took 3-4 hours. Let's just say that following a hand rail in the dark is not so easy. The terrain kept forcing us up and away from our river. Finally, we reached the portage and saw a campfire down the shore. Elated, we moved pretty quickly and confidently towards the light. Only to stumble upon a cabin, with a friendly man to tell us we're going the right way, it's the next fire up the shore. There was no fire. Instead, about an hour later (maybe...who knows, I wasn't wearing a watch, and time seems to stop out there in the night) we hear people yelling to us "Swim across, we're over here!" "Huh" swim across? But the CP is supposed to be on the EAST shore of the lake. If we swim across we'll be on the WEST shore. It took Candice and Grant awhile to explain to me that we were on the shore of a little bay, and the campsite was on the point, which technically is still the east shore. Admittedly, I figured this out the next day when I was reviewing the maps.....
So, finally we roll into CP4....after being offered beer by the yahoos yelling at us. There didn't seem to be many of them, but there sure were alot of empties on the ground. And they seemed offended that we did not want any beer.
The next section went slowly, but perfectly for us. We set our bearings (there was a bit of an issue here, when Grant and Candice pointed one way, and I almost pointed in the exact opposite direction. Not wanting to admit that something was wrong, I covertly re-checked my bearing. Hmm....everything looks right, I'm very confident I have set it right....oh, well, 2 against 1, I'll follow them. After a few more checks as we're following the river I finally show Candice my compass......which shows the north arrow pointing south. My compass is seems to think north is south.....somehow it has de-polarized...hmmm....I put it away, good thing we all brought one)
At CP5...note the coffee in my hand
We spend the next 5 hours playing leap frog through dense bush, walls of rock we need to scramble over, and walls of alder bushes. We manage to come out with 20' of our target each time. We hit the end of Horseshoe Lake as the sun is coming up, follow the shore up high for a bit. Then decide to get low, as we figure the campsite will be on the water. We are encouraged by the fact that the shoreline is walkable, sandy bottom covered in footprints...we round the corner, quietly say "Good Morning" and are met by the the beautiful sight of smiling people....who say "We weren't expecting you for another hour!" At this point I am fighting back tears of relief that we made it here. We are offered coffee, cheese, crackers and the last strawberry. This beautiful, wonderful man then proceeds to tell us how great we look, snaps our picture and that we have 5 hours to get to TA2 to be able to continue the race, and he believes we can do it. It is exactly what we need to hear right now. So, off we go. We follow this rough, rocky shoreline, opting to stay low for as long as we can. I have a few moments of terror as we have to climb up a cliff. Not scramble, but actually climb. With no ropes. And a 20' drop against more rocks before landing in the lake broken. Now, I haven't done any climbing in 10 years. And I don't even like climbing ladders. But somehow, Candice and Grant coax me up the cliff face (I really don't think I'm exaggerating) and we continue on. We swim across the channel between Little Wilson and Wilson Lake, scramble up the hill (I sucked back a peanut butter goo, it is breakfast time after all) we head due south aiming for the "road" We got onto the trail with the orange ribbons for a bit, but when it starts to veer in another direction we quickly get off of it, find the "road" we were looking for and move as quickly as our aching bodies will allow us.
We arrived at TA2 at 11:05, 55 minutes before the "absolute cutoff". We discover Grant's bike is not here!! So Bob tells us to go ahead and transition, when we are ready he will hit the timer, and we will get a time credit to make up for how long it takes for Grant's bike to arrive. As we're getting ready (a little slowly now, as we can't yet leave) we all realize that the team that walked in 3 minutes before is also a rookie team! All of a sudden we are racing again! We all look at each other, and start moving a bit faster. There is a prize for the rookie team who finishes first. And the only two rookie teams left are right here, a 26km ride on the road away from the finish line! Team Spinning out of Control hops on their bikes and take off, not knowing how fast they have to ride, because we won't be there riding with them. 18 minutes later, Grant's bike arrives, and we hit the road. As we turn into the parking lot to the finish line, I am fighting back tears. It has been 29 hours of non-stop travelling. I'm tired, but elated that it is over, and we have done it! 
Spinning out of Control takes the rookie prize.....beating us by 8 minutes. 
Well, Wilderness Traverse volunteers and staff....thank you for a great first 24hour race experience, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot will see you next year! And I'll hopefully have a new bike......with shocks!!


  1. Great report, Michelle! And congratulations on finishing your first 24-hr adventure race. Not many people can say that.! Well done. :)

    Barb Campbell
    Assistant Race Director

  2. Well done WTF! Very proud of you and your team!