Monday, August 8, 2011

Raid the North Extreme 2011 – Veronica’s Take

        Raid the North Extreme 2011 started way before we gathered on the start line on July 24 in the community of Meadow Creek, British Columbia. The race started for me in January as I signed up for a coached program to bring me into top shape for the event. In the months leading up to the event I would put in anywhere from 17-25hrs of training per week, focusing on running, biking, kayaking and strength work.  I wanted to minimize the gap between me and my stronger male teammates and I also wanted to attempt a good finish and contribute more to the team than I have in the past. Having RTNX come to our area of the country felt like a great opportunity to draw upon our team’s strengths and the team’s mountain experience; and not to mention the potential for a wonderful race course through some of Canada’s most beautiful terrain.

        On July 22 the members of Team Wild Rose (Bart Jarmula, James Heilman, Mike Brown and Veronica Jarlehag) met up in Nelson, B.C. for the mandatory gear and skills check. The check took place in a local park and a bike shop and ran smoothly. After a great dinner at a local restaurant the opening ceremony and map distribution took place. The opening presentation was among the lowest key I have seen in a big event like this with very little hype, however the main reason behind the meeting was to distribute the course maps and in that the meeting was a success.  It would have been nice to see a little more information about the course’s technical aspects and some heads up about the terrain so that teams could have been a little better prepared for what they would be heading into. Bart and James withdrew to their hotel room shortly after the meeting to plot the course and Mike and I ran a few last minute errands to pick up supplies.

        The following morning when Bart and James had finished the map plotting we made final arrangements to our gear and headed up to Kaslo where we would spend the night before race start. This was a curious last minute move from the race organization. As the start would not take place from Kaslo, most of us felt like the relocation was unnecessary and that we could have been bussed straight from Nelson to race start, and I was really not happy about the camping arrangements before a week long expedition race. Our team checked into the local hotel to ensure that we got a good night’s sleep. I’m very glad that we did as I heard of teams not sleeping well in the campground.
        The morning of the race we boarded a number of busses and headed one hour north of Kaslo to the community of Meadow Creek. Once we arrived at the start line there was nothing left to do but to get the bike and line up for the start. I felt great! Less nervous than usual, less psyched out by other teams than usual and I felt well rested and very eager to go.  On top of that I was surrounded by the best three team mates you could ask for.
        This is what I had been training for and now it was time to see if the training had paid off.

        The start of the race had us mountain bike up the forest road right behind the Meadow Creek community centre, up Meadow Mountain. We saw a 1000m elevation gain in only 15km and the road took us about 2.5hrs to complete. We had a strong ride despite a wrong turn early on and the heavier packs that included our trekking gear. We arrived at the top in second place, only 1 minute behind Wilderness Traverse. Dart Nuun was following closely behind us. It was a hot day and we were feeling the effects of the heat as we were switching into our trekking gear. I dumped a bunch of water on my head which made a big difference.

        The trek started on some easy terrain along a ridge, allowing us to run. Shortly we started dropping down the mountain through the bush all the way to the valley bottom. At times the bush got a little thick but nothing too bad. Once at the valley bottom we started what would be a very long and at times heinous bushwhack in thick alder and devil’s club. Little did I know that this was nothing compared to what would come our way later in the race.

We pushed steadily and eventually came upon a trail that we used for a little while. Some teams had found this trail down at the valley bottom and had been able to quickly make way up the valley. Too bad that we didn’t catch it from the start as well. We hiked with Yoga Slackers and Custom Cellular for a while. It was fun chatting with Andrew Fairhurst for a bit about his last season organizing Full Moon In June and his experience at XPD a couple of years ago. I felt encouraged to move quickly with these teams around, but my teammates fell behind a little so I stopped and waited.  Bart had started to feel unwell. He was having some GI issues that we needed to manage. We slowed down a little and took a few breaks, but he seemed to be getting worse. The tight bushwhack made for very hard work and it didn’t help him much.

        When we finally came up in the alpine we moved a bit better and we picked our route up the mountain side to the pass between Brennan Mountain and Whitewater Mountain and CP2. It seemed like teams picked many different ways up this route. We passed Team Atmosphere/MOMAR at some point before reaching the CP in 5th place. The trip down to the TA was easy as we could follow a trail all the way. Bart was feeling pretty sick at this point so we avoided running. Instead we hiked at a steady pace and decided to take a longer break in the TA to allow Bart to eat, sleep and recover. This was a very good decision as he seemed much better when he woke up. I heard Atmosphere/MOMAR pass us while we were napping and knew that we had some catching up to do. They put about 45-60 minutes on us while we were napping.

        The next bike ride had us ride up two mountains, Reco Pass and Idaho Peak. Again, I felt great on the bike climbing. The roads ascended steeply and steadily but if I recall correctly they were mostly all ridable, except for a few steeper sections. The descent down from Reco Pass was pretty fast on a gravel road that took us past some old mining sites. At the foot of the Idaho Peak climb we refilled some water before we continued our steady climb. Right at the top of Idaho Peak we caught up with Team Atmosphere/MOMAR.  Leanne and Pete both looked great.

        We dropped down the back side of Idaho Peak onto the Wakefield single track trails which were really fun riding. I took a bit of a scary crash where I crashed into the mountain side above me and then got bounced back down the steep slope until a stump of a tree stopped me. It caused a bit of bruising on the leg, but luckily nothing else. I was also very lucky to avoid any injury when I slipped on some snowpack and slid down a very steep slope towards some huge rocks and a hole in the ice that would have been troublesome to fall into. The only damage was a bruised arm. Phew!
        The TA for the paddle was located on the shore in Silverton. Bart wondered if we wanted to stop at the local store to buy some food, but I was a little too competitive and said we didn’t need to as we had our TA bins here. In retrospect perhaps we should have stopped. These kind of stops are often good mental pick me uppers and might have been really good for us. I think I was the only one who spoke up and voted against it so I suspect everyone else wanted to stop. I will be more conscientious about this in future races. We took a while in the TA to eat. I didn’t really feel the need to eat hot food again, but I guess eating is never bad, so we grabbed as much as we could.

        The paddle down Slocan Lake was relatively short at about 4-6hrs. We set a steady pace and kept it for most of the paddle. I had huge issues with the canoe seat which wore two big sores into the back of my legs. Not good as we had another much longer paddle ahead of us in the race. At the end of the lake we followed the river a few kilometers to the take out and another TA. This is where the rain started that would persist throughout the night and into the next morning.

        After some refueling in the TA we prepared for a long trek. It started on a road that quickly turned into single track trail. We wanted to run this section but James ate too much in the TA and couldn’t run. Instead we walked briskly. The rain continued to fall and for the afternoon it was pretty warm and humid but as the night fell and we gained elevation it got cooler. Mike started seeing the sleep monsters and was moving very slowly. I took his pack so that Bart could help with a tow to ensure that we moved steadily.

        At the end of the trail we came upon Beatrice Lake which we needed to hike around. Normally there is a trail along the shore line on the right side of this lake, but due to the high waters this year, the trail was under water. The only option was to pick a side and bushwhack through. As we were trying to decide which way to go we ran into Tom and Team Custom Cellular. They had been looking for the trail unsuccessfully and had spent some time by a fire to warm up. Their female racer was not feeling good and they had decided to pull out of the race when they saw what thick bush lied ahead of them. Tom mentioned that he thought we were now in second place as he had not seen Dart Nuun or anyone else around. We were pretty sure we had seen them sleeping under a tarp further down the trail. Good news for us.
        After a warm-up by Tom’s old fire, we picked the left side of Beatrice Lake and started the most heinous trek in my adventure racing career. Thick, thick bush, lots of devil’s club and pouring rain made for very slow progress. The first 1.5km took us 3hrs to cover and we still had 4.5 km to cover to reach the end of the lake alone. What saved us here was that we kept moving. Anytime we stopped we started shivering. Our clothes were wet and I was saving my only dry shirt and tuque for the end of the bushwhack to ensure that I would avoid hypothermia. No point in putting it on in the thick bush as it would just get wet. At one point we crossed through a little waterfall and got even wetter. It was a bit discouraging to progress so slowly but we kept moving. This section was also tough in that we got pretty spread out.  It was hard to see each other in the thick bush and in the dark, so we often ended up taking different routes to reach the same place, which was not efficient and sometimes Mike and I would fall behind. James and Bart also took different routes here so it was hard to know where to go. At some point, someone mentioned starting a fire and this sounded very nice to me. I picked up the speed as much as was possible and was really looking forward to finding a place for a fire. But after another hour or so of trekking (in the pouring rain) I realized that we were not making a fire at all but we were just continuing towards the end of the lake. Good decision as a fire would have stopped us and I’m not sure it would have done any good. Kudos to James for just pushing us on and setting the pace!

        Once out from the lake the bush got a bit better and we continued towards the Ice Creek Lodge CP which was still quite far away. We trekked across some wetlands and up some more slopes until we hit another lake, Demers Lake I think it was called. This lake was sitting in a big bowl of mountains and at first glance you could not imagine that there would be a way to get up and above the bowl, which is where we needed to go.

       We traversed on the left side of the lake and very carefully crossed two snow fields. A slip here would have meant a very cold swim in the lake. We crossed safely and worked our way to the end where a big waterfall was crashing down and very, very steep terrain climbed up. An upper body workout pulling ourselves up an alder slope to the side of the waterfall got us to a tree line where we could start climbing to the top. The rain stopped and it was starting to get warm.  We could finally take some layers off.

        Once at the top of the climb I was starting to fatigue a little. This was the lowest point of the race for me. My knees and feet swelled up and were aching quite a bit. I was also bonking a little. James helped me by taking my pack and I was able to eat some food. The remaining trek to the CP and Ice Creek Lodge was pretty easy although we spent some time perfecting our bushwhack line to the cabin and CP (meaning avoiding cliffs). Once at the lodge we confirmed that we were in second place and we had a well needed nap. It was super comfortable with our own beds and nice warm air. We ate and slept like babies, while our clothes dried. Team Dart/Nuun came in at some point during our nap. My body fully recovered and the swelling and aching went way down. My legs, neck and arms were covered in disgusting infected bumps from the devil’s club but other than that I was looking forward to the next section of the Valhalla’s, which was going up and over two mountain passes. Everyone seemed in good spirits as we were leaving the lodge (although I have since learned that Bart didn’t feel that great after the nap, with some swelling and pain). Perhaps we were all happy that the nasty bushwhacking was over for now.

        We left the lodge in the late afternoon and climbed up and over the first pass in daylight. It was a bit tricky going in the snowpack and you had to be pretty careful in your steps to avoid slipping. The view from the top was stunning! It was such an amazing feeling to look out over a horizon full of mountains. From this place we could see our next object, Lucifer Pass, in the distance of the valley below us.

        We worked our way down the snow pack carefully. A couple of sections were a bit tricky and a fall would not have been good. Once through the steeper section we could boot ski all the way down. I threw in some bum sliding as well as I lost my balance a few times. The traverse across the valley was quick and easy and we started the ascent of the Lucifer Pass as it was getting dark. Darkness fell and we were climbing up to the pass with very little visibility. We could see the headlamps of two other teams behind us in the distance (I suspect it was Dart Nuun and Atmosphere/MOMAR). It started raining and then snowing. The closer to the top we got, the steeper the terrain got and the wind and snow/ice pellets increased. Very near the top I stepped over a bit of a ledge and slid down into a bowl next to the line we were hiking up. A bit scary as I couldn’t see much but I could arrest the fall with my heels and with the help of Bart’s headlamp I was guided back on track.  James had reached the top before us and was getting cold. He dressed up in a beautiful skirt made out of his bivy sack. Never knew he could pull off the cross-dress thing. The descent on the other side started with some boot skiing and some traversing to find a good spot to go down.  As we were starting to get cliffed out Bart found a chute that was passable. We went down one by one with Bart receiving us at the most technical section. I don’t think I would have made it down this section without his help. From this point and on it was easy going down the snow and some trails to the CP.  We quickly checked in and out and continued on a trail down the valley. We ran into Tom from Custom Cellular. Tom and his teammate had decided to help out with the race after they pulled out and were heading up to relieve the CP staff. Tom treated us to a Coke that we all shared. Nice treat for sure! The trail down was fast to travel on and we half jogged and half speed-walked. My headlamp completely died at some point in here so I was following the lights of Bart. Lithium batteries are not at all longer lasting than normal batteries. They are lighter, yes, but not longer lasting. I sure learned that lesson on this trek.

        As we came down to the road we jogged the rest of the way into the TA. The TA had been moved up the road and we learned that instead of running the 17km of road ahead of us, we would be biking instead. This was great news for us, but as we had fed and prepared our bikes and were just about to lay down for a rest, the organizers were changing this back to a road run. I’m really not sure why it was changed in the first place and why they now changed it back. Wilderness Traverse and our team were the only two teams who got to ride our bikes down this section of road. The other teams received a time credit that was supposed to make up for the difference in speed and fatigue factor. This was where some of the organizational issues started occurring for us in a more obvious way. Dart Nuun passed through the TA as we were waking up from our nap and we later passed them on our bikes as they were trekking down the road.

        I can’t remember this entire bike ride, but I think this is where we had the zip line, which was one of these annoying rope sections that were set up for the heck of just having a rope section.  You rode down from a main road to the line, zipped across a river with the bike, and then went right back up to the same road.  The rope staff was sound asleep when we arrived and we had to wait about 20 minutes before we could get started (one guy had to run across to the other side to receive us). I was also hooked up a bit low in the harness on the first attempt and could not reach the line to pull myself across, so I had to go back and try again. Anyway, short enough of a line to get over with relatively quickly, but I rather see the race organization remove a rope section all together when their main idea falls apart rather than setting up something that isn’t necessary for progressing on the course. But perhaps other racers are more excited about the rope sections than I am and I suppose it makes for good photographic opportunities.

        This bike ride had a bit of everything, some road, ATV trail, overgrown trail, climbs and downhills. The ride ended at the beginning of the longer paddle of Arrow Lake.

        The paddle was one long stretch of straight mountain lake with our bikes in the canoes. Beautiful scenery and sunny conditions made for a nice start. We were a bit futsy getting going as James insisted in trying to use our sails which didn’t work for long as there wasn’t any good wind. I was having issues getting comfortable on the canoe seat as the sores on my legs from the previous paddle were bugging me. I slapped on some moleskin right over the sores and that helped a little.  Bart’s back was really sore in the beginning as well and he was having problems paddling normally. We did eventually settle into a bit of a groove, even if it was an uncomfortable one. We found the spot that was supposed to be a CP, but nobody was there and nothing was marked so we just continued. We got to experience a family of bald eagles teaching their young one how to fly. It was amazing to see them perform all these acrobatic tricks in the air.
        Night fell and it started getting cool. The spray from our wingblade paddles had me a bit wet. James seem to be convinced that it is my technique that makes this happen, but I disagree as when I look over at Bart and Mike they have the same spray happening (I think the spray h as more to do with the wintip blade than the technique). We started to struggle a little as night went on. James felt very sleepy and my back was hurting quite a bit. Every stroke felt like an effort for my shoulder. The sky was full of stars and we saw plenty of shooting stars. As we neared the end of the paddle we started looking for another CP, where we were also expecting to receive our gear bins so that we could switch over to biking (get our bike shoes, helmets, maps, packs and food). At one point as we were shining our headlamps on various cabins, some guys from a cabin yell out over the lake “Are you the guys from Alberta?” We yell back “Are you Raid the North Extreme?”.  When we heard no response we realized that they were not with the race. When we apologized for shining our lamps into their cabin at 1:30 in the morning, they mentioned that they were up drinking whiskey anyway. I think they also invited us in. The finding of the CP proved rather difficult as the guy who was manning it had nothing to indicate that he was a CP. No lights, no fire, no glow stick, no sign.  We went up and down the shore for a while and eventually suspected that the CP might be by this truck that we had seen parked on a road by the lake. True enough. The CP guy was sleeping in the truck and had no idea that we could not identify him as a CP.

        Next we were challenged with the fact that our gear bins had not been transported to this CP as expected. I was super cold with shivers and had been looking forward to getting myself dry. We tried to contact the race organizers but no luck. We had to make a decision as to what to do and decided to continue across the lake to the next CP where the bike ride would start, to see if we could make contact with HQ from there.  Across the lake in the community of Renata we were greeted by two teenagers who were manning the CP and had a nice fire going. They also had hotdogs and food packages of hotdogs and sandwiches for us to buy. An amazing treat!

        Bart kicked our butts in gear and we decided to head out on the bike ride despite missing bike shoes, helmets and two backpacks and not the least the map. With the food from the kids we were able to continue with energy. Unfortunately this meant that we missed our planned sleep for the night, but we thought moving on would give us the best result. Riding big mountains with paddling shoes and eggbeater pedals was not easy, especially on the downhill sections, but we didn’t do too badly. We later learned that Dart Nuun had invented a rock pedal system to allow them to pedal their bikes with their neoprene booties which is all they were wearing. They simply taped flat rocks to their pedals so that they had more of a surface to push off on. Clever!

        After ascending the mountain out of the community of Renata we continued on a downhill trip that took us through a mile-long tunnel and some old railroad bed that was easy to travel on. Again we arrived at the TA before any of our gear did. This time we needed the CP staff to arrive as we needed somewhere to leave our bikes and we needed food. We rode up and down the road to see if they had placed the TA in a different location but no luck. After 45 minutes or so we managed to establish radio contact with Chris and he said he was on the way. He appeared at rally speed in his truck, a wild look in his eyes and our gear bins sticking out of his truck in all different directions.  We were promised another time credit for this.  When opening our bins, all our stuff looked like it had gone through a washing machine. Everything was mixed up in there.

        We had a quick TA with some food and drink and headed out on our trek. It was turning out to be a very warm day. We worked our way up a mountain bushwhacking style and across some flatter sections to some road. We wet our heads every time we came across a creek, but when we hit the first bit of road we decided to take a break in the shade. Bart crashed hard and we decided to make it a bit of a nap to let Bart sleep and to let the air cool. Not the best place to stop as the mosquitoes were really bad. We snoozed a little but when Bart woke up 40 minutes later we decided to move on.
        The trek felt more like a Rogaine than a real mountain trek as we were hopping from road to road and trail system to trail system via some bushwhacking. I sprained my ankle in this trek by getting it stuck under a root and then twisting it. I could feel and hear it pull. Made me a bit nervous as we still had a bike ride to reach the finish. I was hoping that I could hold off any severe swelling by keeping my feet moving. We found all the CPs without issue and the way down to the next TA was on an open road. We decided to run the flats and downhills. James was feeling a bit ill so I helped by taking his pack. At the bottom we were restricted from the highway and instead bushwhacked across to a lake with a trail system that led us across to the TA. We ran into a bunch of campers and they sold us some cold Coca Cola! Very, very awesome!

        The sleepy monsters were starting to hit us and we were trying to decide how long to sleep for in the TA. We weren’t quite in agreement.  I was voting for a shorter nap and another one later if we needed it. In the end we decided on 40 minutes, but none of us heard the alarm and we overslept. We slept for about 90 minutes and Mike was the one waking up realizing that we overslept. When he was waking me up I had no idea who he was, where I was and why we were there. Mike looked weird in the headlamp light and his voice sounded strange. I asked him who he was and what he was doing and I believe I was annoying him quite a bit as the response was pretty sharp.

       The beginning of the bike ride took us up another mountain road. We had to make it up and over the top into a road system that eventually would take us to the beginning of the Seven Summits trail. We ended up on the wrong road at first and had to do a bit of bushwhacking to end up on the correct one. It was pretty tight bush and as we were all pretty tired it was a bit of a mental struggle. We found the correct road though and made it up to the top where we searched out an ATV trail that we could follow down to the other side. We had some amazing views of Rossland way down in the valley below, yellow shimmering lights. We hit a road and I was struggling big time with the sleep monsters. I kept falling asleep on the bike and I was almost happy when we had to do another bushwhack in order to reach another road. It kept me awake better, even though it also made me curse. The bike was snagging on all kinds of things and I’m surprised that we didn’t damage something. I kept falling on top of it and other times I crashed backwards with the bike on top of me.

        At the bottom of the Seven Summits trail Mike and Bart had their fight with the sleep monsters. We were riding along when all of a sudden Bart pulls up next to Mike and yells at the top of his lungs “Mike!” Mike later told me he got so scared that he almost started crying because Bart never yells at people. James and I saw a bear running across the trail. He had a huge bum, but he was so quick that I couldn’t tell whether he was a Grizzly or black bear. I’m guessing a black bear.

        We climbed up and up on the trail and all of a sudden a man on a bike with a dog in tow appears. I said hi and didn’t think much of it, but as I pulled over to sit down for a break and wait for my team mates to catch up, I realized that it was only 5am and that meeting someone on the trail was a bit weird. If the rest of the team hadn’t seen him too I would have brushed him off as a hallucination.

       Once we reached the top we had some fun riding down the trail. It was fast, flowy and super fun. Unfortunately we had to interrupt the ride with a climb up Old Glory Mountain and back. It didn’t take long but felt a little like the zip line in that it was an in and out. As we started riding again we ran into two guys with skis strapped to their packs. Bart and James chatted with them for a bit as Mike and I caught up with them. They were out mountaineering and looking for some turns. As soon as Mike and I caught up we started riding again. What we didn’t notice was that Mike didn’t come with us. He got excited and wanted to chat with the mountaineers too. This was a bit frustrating as I felt like we were still racing and wanted to continue to make good time. I gave Mike heck when he caught up and he looked so sad and sheepish that I ended up feeling horrible for giving him grief. Sorry Mike.

        The rest of the Seven Summits went uneventfully. We were a bit s low on the last climb and it felt like the team lost focus of the race. The ride down Red Mountain was a bit painful as my ankle was starting to hurt and the road down was a bit rough. Wakana, James’ wife, was at the bottom greeting us. It was great to see her. She had helped out in the race at various locations, such as CP 1 and the ropes. Now she was waiting for us to finish. As we were riding away from Red Mountain I realized how pooped I was. I could barely ride up the slightest incline in the road. James had to give me a push every now and then so that I could keep up. Thank goodness the rest of the course was downhill.

        What followed next was very surreal to me. At a pretty fast speed we set off through the town of Rossland and a trail system that led us to Trail. We turned this way and that way and I had no idea how Bart knew where and when to turn. He just kept going and the rest of us followed. It felt like we were in some form of computer game. On top of that I had a huge déjà vu as we are riding into the park and finish line. It felt like I had been there before. Later Bart told me he had written it all down on a piece of paper that he was holding through the ride. I had been too tired to notice. I was just super impressed at his sense of location.

        We crossed the finish line in second place in 122hrs and 23 minutes (time credits not deducted). I am very, very happy with that result considering some very strong teams participated! Placing second in this event has us placed in the top 20 of the teams for the World Championships. What makes me even happier is how strong I felt throughout the entire race. Aside from my one dip during the second trek I felt very consistent and strong. I managed to focus on our progression for most of the race and only lost focus a couple of times. I ran out of steam only at the very end and only minutes from the finish line which was perfect timing. I think this is one of the only adventure races where I have not asked myself why I am doing it. For some reason I had a goal and I never felt like quitting. I’m super happy with how the entire team worked through this race. We helped each other when needed and you knew that if you asked someone would give you a hand. We didn’t always agree on exactly the same plan, and we didn’t always communicate enough going into the transition areas but in the end we always sorted it out. The boys were super strong as always and Bart’s navigation was outstanding, more than outstanding! The race organization could have been better with keeping up with the racers (and could have avoided dealing with time credits and upset racers), but the volunteers were awesome and provided superb support in the transition areas.
        Considering that I could barely walk around the block one year ago post surgery, this has been a great personal achievement. I’m really looking forward to the next race in Tasmania, Australia and I’m hoping to improve even more for that race.

Huge thanks to my team for being who they are! I love racing with you guys!

1 comment:

  1. Where is Bart's write up of this race? It used to be here as did his version of tasmania. Can you put them back up...