(These pics are not in order...it's harder then you would think!)
As mentioned, the team was in second place, after a 5km run, coming into the first transition...another dreaded paddling leg.
We were definitely in race mode and went to work on pumping up those damn boats as quickly as our bodies would allow.
A few teams managed to launch ahead of us, but there were rumours of some teams having purchased a second pump to quicken their boat transitions (I wish we had done the same!). As soon as we hit the water it was the same ole crap, the boats would not track, they were all over the place and we thought our race for a top finish would once again be over before it even started. What we did learn from a few other people was that these boats are amazingly finicky when it comes to weight distribution. Todd is a big boy, and we had packed one big bag of gear in each boat during the first few days of the race. For the second stage of the event we re-positioned the seats within the boat to help balance them out, and packed much smaller bags of gear into the kayaks. As soon as the boats started weaving their way through the water we went about the tedious process of re-configuring the weight in the kayaks 101 different ways...I eventually moved the pump, weighing all of 1/2 a pound to the middle of the boat...and the friggin things actually started to track through the water and allow us to paddle!! We hooked up the tow and agreed not to eat, drink, fart or burb until we hit land again.
A couple of teams caught us, but overall we had a respectable paddling time and came off of the water in a good position for ourselves. The rains had started mid-way through the kayak section and it was now streaming down sheets of water on us. We were entering what would prove to be the most physically challenging stage of the entire race...an 8km boat-whack. The kayaks weighed about sixty pounds each, and as if we didn't already hate the things enough, we now had to deflate them, somehow attach them to our backs, and bushwhack them up and over a decent incline before re-launching them in an inlet on the other side. A few teams had wheels that had functioned well for them throughout the event and they were some of the first teams out of this transition. We managed to utilize the seat straps and came up with a make shift harness to attach the kayaks to our bodies...there was still 100 pounds of gear outside of the boats and Todd carried three backpacks and three PFD's, I could hardly make out Megan behind her load, Chris had a kayak on his back and I was being somewhat strangled by our kayak paddle bag dangling around my neck, with a boat hanging off of my rump...we were off!
Was There A Turnoff Back There Anywhere??
The team is pretty strong on our feet and we went about tracking down numerous teams that had left ahead of us, including two teams that were trying to wheel their boats through the bush. We were initially following a fairly open forest service road, but it quickly became indistinguishable and those teams with wheels were rapidly regretting their choice. We knew we were towards the front of the pack, but all of a sudden we noticed there were very few, if any, tracks/footprints in front of us. We checked the maps and it all seemed to make sense so we continued onwards. There were two teams just back of us, which only lead to our belief in it being the proper route. Eventually we popped out into a clearing and the trail/road seemed to continue on in the wrong direction. We let the other teams catch up and amongst us we compared our knowledge of English swear words. At that point we were right with our good friends from Baja, 'The Dancing Panda's', and as we all turned around to head back the way we just came our buddy Eric yelled out,
"Don't worry, you guys are the comeback kids!"
I though for sure we had taken ourselves out of the race, for it was a costly 30-40 minute error. We found the 'intersection' where we had taken 'the path less travelled', and for the record, it was not more rewarding!
We were now, once again, towards the back of the pack, yet moving quickly over the terrain. We eventually came to a bit of a bottle neck of teams and I asked my team if they were alright with running for a bit. Everyone agreed and we made our own passing lane around a big group of racers. I noticed some people trying to match the pace, but with sixty pounds on your back it is no easy task.
Within an hour we were once again catching up to people we had been with or around before our detour. This gave us renewed hope that we might have caught our mistake in time to make up for it, and once again we quickened our pace to get past these teams.
What happened next was a bit shocking to all of us. We traversed around a corner and straight into three teams who were checking their maps...it was Sole, Dart-Nuun and Intrepid Travel...we knew that this had to be the lead pack of teams!! Now admittedly, Sole and Dart-Nuun had covered a lot more race course then ourselves in the first three day stage on the islands, but Intrepid Travel, like ourselves, had run into some bad luck and were forced to drop out after the first trekking stage of the event. They are a respected and experienced team and we knew that this second stage of the race was probably going to come down to a race amongst the un-ranked, more rested, slightly frustrated teams that faced issues in Haida Gwaii. GAME ON!!
As these teams were going over their maps Todd and Chris decided to pick our own route and go with it. We started descending a gully, which lead us onto a lower forest service road and eventually what ended up being a thick forested, steep descent back to the ocean. Now keep in mind that everyone was overloaded with gear and you can just imagine how on more then one occasion someone would yelp as they found themselves off balance and falling with what was basically an anvil tied to their backs.
I never thought I'd be so happy to be inflating those damn boats!
There was a camera crew on the water and once they spotted us they approached for some footage. We were able to converse with them as we were pumping up our watercraft,
"How many teams have made it out so far?"
"One, you guys are second."
"YEEE HAAAWW! How far ahead are they?"
"An hour and a half."
Team Supplier Pipeline, another un-ranked team, racing with only three of four members...and only one boat, were able to make up big time on the paddling and bushwhacking sections...we would not seem them at all.
We hit the water and once again went about trying to find that magic mix of where things should be placed. Eventually, after an insane amount of frustration, we had the kayaks working with us and not against us.
Team Sole caught and passed us within an hour. Not far behind them were teams SSS (fourth overall) and Intrepid Travel, working together with an efficient draft system in place. We knew that this was our only chance at a respectable paddling leg and we just about killed ourselves in joining them and hanging on. We held their pace for about an hour before they dropped us, however, we managed to keep these two teams, and Team Sole within sight and pulled off the water section within a few minutes of them, and with no one even close behind us.
Intrepid were first out of transition, followed by Sole. Team Helly Hansen/MOMAR had made up significant time on all of the teams in front of us threw a great transition and we were off right behind Sole and ahead of SSS. A few minutes out, Team Sole captain Paul Romero 'called off the wolves', and they dropped back from us. Initially we thought that they were letting the un-ranked teams go at each other. With a four hour lead over second place after the first stage, Sole had but to finish this second stage to claim their overall victory. We later learned that Paul had issues with his peddles, followed by a few flat tires!
The bike stage was very similar to the first time we were on our bikes. The terrain was pretty much flat, initially on forest service roads and then onto a paved road. With about 10km to go we caught sight of Intrepid Travel. They had stopped to adjust something and as soon as they noticed us in hot pursuit they were back on their bikes and gone in no time.
I Don't Ever Want To See These Boats Again!
We came into the transition to our final kayak stage of the entire event at dusk. Intrepid were one inflated boat ahead of us and hit the water about five minutes before we did. Finally the kayaks gave us a break and right from the get go they worked as they should.
It was nightfall by the time we beached and we could see the lights from Team Sole just behind us on the water. Intrepid were disappearing into the bushes, for a 1.5km hike-a-boat to the last transition of Raid The North Extreme 2007. All along our paddle I was telling the team to be ready to run once we hit land, for there was no way that we were not going to track these guys down!
We managed a short detour on our little hike-a-kayak, and after a speedy transition we struggled to find the trail head. Intrepid Travel now had almost a fifteen minute lead on us! We hit the trail and absolutely ate it up. After about an hour and a half we saw lights in the distance and I whispered to the team
"Their right freakin there!!"
This is where race strategy comes into play and everyone does their best impression of someone fresh out of the shower after a ten hour nap on a long weekend from work.
"Oh hey, yeah, we didn't see you guys there, how's it going?"
"Couldn't be better! Great night for a run!"
"Sure is, in fact I'd rather be nowhere else right now!"
"Me too, wonderful night hey team."
"Loving life right now buddy!!"
The trail had dissipated and all eight racers were off in different directions trying to find it. I was lucky enough to locate it first and called to my teammates to get on it asap. Two team members from Intrepid were first to do so and we all went about trying to run each other into the ground. I noticed one headlamp was falling off the back.
"Helly, you guys all hear?"
"Yup, yeah, right here."
Sweet...I upped the pace and everyone followed along...all except the injured sheep at the back of the group. It took less then one kilometer for Intrepid to realize that as a team they had to back off. This, of course, was our sign to go as fast as our bodies could handle. We simply had to get our headlamps out of sight as quickly as possible and we started running up this mountain at 2am.
By the time we had hit a few clear cut sections we knew that we had them. Our only concern now was if Team Sole were on us or not. Given fresh legs they would undoubtedly dust us, but with our extra rest we knew we should be able to keep them at bay.
Who's bright idea was it to put planks of wood down on B.C. 'rain forest country' trails anyways? These things are like sheets of ice after a few years of rain and no matter how many times you might throw yourself off of one, your brain keeps telling you that this one will be different, this one is fine...then you're picking mud out of your teeth and trying to re-align your knee joints for the sixteenth time!
There were some very nice volunteers at our last C.P. before the finish line. They ensured us that it was but a 24 minute, yes she said 24 minute, run down the mountain and into town. Over an hour later we were cursing her innocently natured advice and wondering if she thought that we could run as fast as her car would do it in?
What Now? Beer, No Shower, No Food...
Team Helly Hansen/MOMAR ran across the finish line for Raid The North Extreme 2007 at 4:30am, just over 19 hours after the second stage had begun...in second place!! For the stage that is...we were something like 25Th out of 23 for the overall rankings...but at that point in time it did not matter, the team was on top of the world, we had as clean a stage as could be asked for and between us we felt that we had proved to ourselves that given a little bit of luck, we just might be able to compete with some of these top teams in the very near future.
-First Place, Sole Custom Foot beds
-Second Place, Dart-Nuun
-Third Place, Yukon Wild
The only three teams to complete the entire course!
-Fourth was SSS and because they are just good people and the completed almost all of the course, they get a congrats as well!
Raid The North Extreme is a genuine expedition style race and they practice exactly what they preach,'Real Wilderness', 'Real Navigation', 'Real Freakin Tough'...OK I made that one up, 'Real Adventure'.
These guys pulled off a near miracle in being able to not only re-design the entire race course, over two years in the works, in under two weeks, but on top of that they managed to throw us into incredible terrain in one of the most pristine places in all of Canada. My hat goes off to Geoff Langford, Lawrence Foster, everyone involved with the Frontier Adventure Race organization and absolutely each and every volunteer that helped make this race a sparkling success.
Prince Rupert, upon first glance, does not look like much, but after spending just a few days in this city it was actually hard to leave...I truly wanted to push my flight back! Their are rumours at this point in time that the original race course might be resurrected in a few years time...I for one, can only hope this to be a reality.
Thanks for everything guys, it was an absolute pleasure and Team Helly Hansen/MOMAR will be back for more!
HA, I'm freakin done...now as long as the power does not go out I can try to proof read this damn thing...ahh screw it, I'm going to bed...my Dad can proofreed it for me!