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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Storm The Trent 2021: Trek Distance, Haliburton Edition, A Race Report


Storm is finally back! 

After COVID canceled 2020 and postponed 2021, we finally got to STORM again.

This race is an Adventure Race, and when Sean plans a route, Adventure is often big-A Adventure...

The Location

So first off I don't love the new location.  His previous Haliburton courses were great, but we've raced at the Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve "Wolf Centre" before in the old "Logs, Rocks and Steel" races... and it wasn't fun.  The trails are muddy, rocky, poorly maintained, barely used... 

Add to that torrential persistent rain allllll week and we knew it was going to be a muddy hell-fest.

The Start - Canoe!

Not us, taken before the wind kicked
up! Pretty scenery. Photo courtesy Storm,
Used without Permission.

Strava link:

First discipline was the Canoe - 6km paddle around a small lake with two checkpoints.

We just did 110km last weekend at the Huntsville 110, but despite that I felt really strong.  We were rocking the marathon-canoe-style paddles and our cedar strip boat, and made quick work of a bunch of better boats with kayak paddles.

I'm not convinced kayak paddles are superior for people who know how to really paddle a boat, and with the strong wind, they had a paddle in the breeze the entire time... 

It's hard to know until results are posted but I think we really killed it. Averaged 8km/h in our 17 foot cedar strip!

The Portage

Before we could grab our bikes, there was the small matter of an 800m portage.

My thought was to toss the 60lbs boat on my shoulders, which I did.  I entirely underestimated the impact on the core muscles going up a hill especially!  I made it 3/4 of the way, then my buddy offered to take over and I obliged... 

We didn't lose time to anyone around us there, in fact picked up a bit on some, so while I'm sure some portaged faster we were pretty decent at it.

Bike #1

Strava link:

First bike was a quick whip on gravel roads from the transition area to the first run - nothing to it, settling in, life's good.

Run #1

Strava link:

This was the one run we actually ran, pretty close to start to finish (other than maybe a few hills along the way.

You could choose how to get to the two checkpoints - we went counter-clockwise, which didn't seem terribly popular (although you don't tend to catch as many people going the same direction as you so that can be deceiving!).

Neither checkpoint was terribly difficult to find, one was right on the trail, one was a little past a trail junction - may have been more complicated if there weren't so many people around, hard to say.

Bike #2

This was a tale of two rides, really.

The first 9km were gravel roads, some tough climbs but very reasonable and easy terrain.

Then there was a section the organizer had labelled as "Rugged Terrain".

Knowing this guy, if he think it's rugged?  It's going to be pretty damn rugged.

And it was.  Terrible trail, for some reason there were giant logs/ties laid across it with 8-12" gaps in between.  With the rain everything was washed out and hellishly unrideable.  Slog slog walk walk.

Finally there was a rideable section, and a chance to use our full-suspension bikes - even a downed tree we could hop!

But yeah, 22 minutes to go 3km, it wasn't great or fun... ADVENTURE!

Run #2

When we had mapped this out, we knew it was going to be tough - the trail was called "Outlook Trail", and it was over 2km straight up to space.

I have no idea what it was like a week ago - but with the crazy rain over the last week?  It was a muddy hell climb.

We assumed we'd be walking the steeper slopes, but not almost all of it!  It was really tough to get any momentum in the sloppy mud... 

The view at the top was beautiful and almost worth it.  

(Who am I kidding, it wasn't worth it!!!)

Saw at least one team cheating (one team member hoofing it to the top while the other guy turned around halfway) - if you're reading this, you know who you are and what you did.  SHAME!!!

The downhill was moderately better, but still so tough with the slippy terrain... there was no making up time here.

26 minutes up, 21 down.  Not great!

Bike #3

This was a pretty fun gravel bike with a few killer climbs, but everything was rideable.

One section of it was completely flooded - but we knew the road under it was smooth so we bombed through with water over our axles!

A "puddle" - Pic Courtesy
of Storm, used without permission
(but they owe me for all they put me through)

Run #3 - the "Optional Advanced Section"

So the way this works... there are 3 checkpoints on the "Optional" section.

If you don't do them, you are ranked behind the teams that do them.

Is it optional?  Not really... it's part of the course, and if we didn't do it we knew we'd feel like we hadn't done the full race.

By this point my legs were cooked.  C-o-o-k-e-d.  My partner too.  We were both just struggling with a lot of different aches and pains, I had some cramps (that thankfully never got to the debilitating point, but were never a picnic!".

We did the first km super slow, once again finding ourselves slogging through mud bogs and up steep climbs.  These "trails" are absolutely terrible, never do them for any reason other than "a race organizer made me".

My favourite part of the "trail" was where someone had tried to make a little plank bridge with logs and cut timber to bypass a mud bog (one of about 50 we had to trudge through), but it was slippery as ice and half the timber was rotted out.  Amazing.  I don't consider myself a trail building and maintenance expert, but I can't imagine crafting worse trails than these... I don't know if it's just that nobody cares, or that the terrain is impossible (perma-mud)?

The only tricky checkpoint was the furthest point, it was near a pond that one could miss if one wasn't great at the maps.  But there was a pretty big crowd there when we were around, and it had been pretty well trodden, so not that tough in the end.

We walked what we had to, ran what we could, I fell twice on slippy mud, but ultimately I think we probably did this faster than most of the teams out there.  Calling it a win!

Ride #4 And The Finish!

This was a mercifully short ride - I was cooked times a hundred by now.

The only trick here was catching the last checkpoint along the trail back - but it was in plain sight.

Finish with nothing left in the tank - just the way we drew it up!

Results Are In!

We finished 4th out of 30 Men's Teams of 2!

I'm delighted, really good result for a really tough day.  I certainly had nothing left.

Several teams missed the last checkpoint... Storm posted this with the results!

I was actually anticipating some would miss it when we were planning, my buddy missed it in the instructions. But no race day we saw it in plain sight from the trail... so I figured it was easy and nobody would skip it??  But somehow they still managed.  Whoops!  Following the race instructions and reading alllll the maps intently is part of the race, though!

Post-Race Navel Gazing

Usually we earn our keep with being clever and reading the maps well, but this one had minimal navigation and the trails were all really well marked.  The checkpoints were mostly trivial, so it was hard to gain any advantage where others might have slipped up.

We paddled hard, we didn't mess up, we persevered and kept it going through all the misery, so I think we'll show pretty well in the end!

One last thing worth mentioning - I wasn't well trained for this (other than maybe the paddle!).  The biking didn't go as well as it should have, I hadn't been running (and certainly hadn't been stair/hill climbing!), so this was a big shock to the old system... really need to purposefully train for something of this magnitude, and I didn't.

And if I never see these trails again?  It'll be too soon.  They're terrible. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Race Report: Huntsville 110 (by Muskoka River X)

Done!  Longest paddle (actually, longest endurance event of any kind!) of my life, 110km straight, 15 1/2 hours... let's get to it!

The Race 

Hidden Valley Resort, The Start!
There was once a race called the "Muskoka River X", we did it a bunch of times, but never managed to complete the full course.

The race was folded after that, but returned as the Huntsville 110 this year!

We had demons to slay, so we came back.

The new race replaced the Muskoka River with the Big East, had fewer portages (only 2!) and more lake paddling.

It also had a new handicap start format, where each boat class started at different times.

The Prep

After looking at when our C2 Stock boat would need to start (afternoon!) we decided to enter C2 Rec.  It meant it would take longer, but we could start in the morning (930am) and finish earlier at night.

We sought out and found a 17 foot boat, a nice cedar strip.  I mean it wasn't that nice... could use a refinish and it's heavy (65lbs!) but it would do.  The best thing is that it's stable as a rock in rough water, which we really needed.

Race maps were released early, marked them up with bearings and distances and were ready to rock!

Our Race, Numbered in Order!

The Start (1)

We put in at 9:30am at Fairy Lake in clear calm water.

Muskoka River in Huntsville, Upstream
To our surprise, we were among the lead boats of our wave.  A boat not in our category (C2 Stock Female) was with us at first, but we passed them in the canal and never saw them again...

Fairy Lake (2) was easy peasy, the heading I had was perfect, we had a tailwind, and we showed up to Huntsville (3) ahead of schedule!

There was a support team location there, but we didn't need to stop so early - skipped it.

Everything was pretty uneventful, found the mouth of the Big East with ease, we were cruising!

The Big East

We have paddled this river a few times in previous races and training runs, but this was the worst its ever been.  The water was so low, but there was remnants of high water damage everywhere.  Fallen trees, floating or just under the surface.  And the low water made every corner difficult, constantly searching for a channel with enough water to paddle through.
Big East Water Levels, Courtesy The Government of Canada

Tulip Inn, Top of Big East
We did a fine job of it, though, but it took a lot out of me (and pretty sure it took a lot out of my partner!).  We hit the top of the Big East still in the lead, ahead of our estimates.

Our wonderful support team was there for our first stop.  We replenished our liquids and were taking a bit of time, until... the second place team paddled up!  Crap.  Then the third place team!  Double crap.  We rushed out of there a little.

Downstream was a chance to recover a bit, although it was still stressful with all the obstacles and low water.  At this point there was a lot more river traffic, with later starting teams coming up the river as we went downstream!  Oh and flotilla of about a dozen cottager looking people (one of them smoking while kayaking, who does that??) ... we finally got through all of this traffic and the lower half was fine.

Lake Vernon (6)

We didn't anticipate much in terms of waves, but it was pretty gnarly when we hit Lake Vernon.  These lakes really kick up with a breeze!  Lots of motor boats and jetskis (spit) as well, so we had our hands full a few times.

As we came around the end of the lake, we saw another team going the other way... somehow they had blown right by the Big East mouth!  So no matter how rough our day was going to be, theirs was going to be worse - made me feel a little better.

Once we got to the far end of Lake Vernon, the waves were better, and we settled in and were moving really well.  The bottom (7) we weren't so lucky... back into open lake and some really rough waves, the worst of the day, and the worst motorized traffic.  It really slowed us down.

(Unbeknownst to us, between 6 and 7 if where we lost the race... more on this soon)

We finally made to through the Narrows and to the next checkpoint in Huntsville (8).

Huntsville (8)

This was the next support team point, we rolled up in the lead of our category (yay!).  Our wives got us all stocked up and what not, we emptied the boat of water, and just as we were being informed we were "8 minutes ahead"... the next team cruised up!


Then the next team.

Double crap.

It's not that we were that long at the support point, it's just that they had made up a ton of ground (water?) in that last stretch of Lake Vernon.  Looking at the Check Point timing later, we did have an 8 minute lead, then we didn't.

We managed to get through Fairy Lake (9) still in the lead, and rolled into the Brunel Locks (10) still there.

Brunel Lock Portage (10) and Muskoka River

The portage was easy, but then my partner stopped to pee.  Nature calls, you answer!

We were about 10 seconds too slow and it cost us getting into the water first... in fact both teams chasing us passed us there.  Then another team budded in front of us.  They're old and fast, so we let them go, but we shouldn't have.

Back in the water now in 3rd, we pushed extra hard downstream to catch the team in front - they took the bad line through some shallow stuff, we caught up, they tried to stay ahead, we managed to get them and put them behind us... that should be that, right!?

We couldn't catch the 1st team though, they were strong and seemed fresh, like they'd just rolled out of bed.

Mary Lake

This is where we flipped in 2019 in horrible conditions, wicked waves, and so I was happy to see it nice and calm.

Uneventful paddle across the lake, but now it was getting dusky.

We hit Port Sydney now in the dark.

A Quick Word on Paddling In the Dark

Everything looks different, deceiving.  Distances are confusing.  Things that you thought would be obvious (like how far the end of the lake is from where you are!) aren't.  

We had a good handle on the first few islands going back across Mary Lake, and I made the mistake of not looking at the map - and by the time I did need to look at it, I had lost all track of where we were!

Fortunately the navigation is pretty straightforward but that's a lesson for next time (if there is a next time).  

We found the mouth of the Muskoka River, so all good.  Good riddance, Mary Lake, consider yourself revenged.

Muskoka River Upstream

Just as we entered the river, the 3rd place team caught up and passed us.

We were sad.  Didn't expect that.  We had been a bit clumsy across the lake, I was messing around with the maps a bit and such, but they clearly put in a solid effort while we were daydreaming.

Upstream wasn't too terrible, except for the light fog that had set in... with the lighting it was really hard to see.  We knew of one tricky dead-end to avoid, right after this really special tree - and we went right up the dead end, even though we saw the tree!

We also beached ourselves coming into Brunel Lock, on a shallow section we knew about... it was just silly stuff, but with fatigue and darkness it happens.

Fairy Lake and Penn Lake

The lakes were pretty uneventful, we had our bearings, we stuck with them, we found what we needed to find.  The GPS shows us going straight between points so it all worked out.

We saw the 2nd place team light up every so often, presumably checking maps, and they were a bit more meandering than us - but we couldn't catch up.

By this point I was pretty wiped, bit of brain fog, not sure we would have had the juice for a final sprint if it had come down to that!

Finished just ahead of our schedule and just like that we'd paddled 110km!

3rd place in our category, just under 5 mins behind 2nd place... but we'll take it for sure.


This is the longest endurance event I've ever done, not counting the 24h MTB race (which I only was on the bike for half of, since we did it tag-team!).

It's not the hardest thing I have ever done (that is Ironman by a lot) but it's definitely not easy to keep going for over 15h!  Fortunately there were distractions most of the time, whether it was navigating or dealing with river obstacles, trying to find landmarks in the darkness... a lot to pay attention to.

I am not a canoe racer - I'm an adventure racer and gravel rider who happens to paddle - so I don't know if we'll do this again.  It really depends on the next race the come up with, if they go back to the old Muskoka River X course I'm in.  For now, big success, demon slayed, on to the next thing!

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Paddling "The Notty" - the Nottawasaga River


Last weekend we paddled the Nottawasaga River near Wasaga Beach in Ontario.

Unsure of what current we'd face, we took two vehicles and went point to point - starting in Angus, Ontario and finishing in the town of Wasaga Beach.


It was really a tale of two completely different experiences...

Angus - 0km

The river in Angus was really quite lovely, quiet, lots of fishermen and very few boats. 

I was very excited at first!  Scenic river, quiet lovely scenery... this was going to be a wonderful paddle!


Log Jams - 5.5km

Not only were these big old log jams that were hundreds of meters long, but the portages around them were clearly not very well used.  Lots of tall vegetation, if you guessed right you could get by but it was pretty hellish.

And there wasn't just one - there were a bunch of these.  Not to mention other just random tree falls...

The worst was between 12km and or so, spent a lot of time out of the boat.

Mouth of Willow Creek - 17km

There is another canoe route along the Willow Creek - we didn't take it, but at that point we started to see signs that humans had taken chainsaws to trees that blocked the river.

Finally, sustained time in the boat, paddling!

Edenvale - 21km

This is where the Conservation Area begins - and the river widens.  The current was very slow, you could easily paddle upstream (and many were doing just that!).  

Wasaga Sports Park - 36km

This was where we finally took out, at a purpose-built canoe/kayak launching spot.

You can continue further downstream, but apparently the current does pick up (swifts) and it makes it impossible to go back upstream... so that was our day.

I'm not in a rush to paddle the Nottawasaga River anytime again soon, but if I did I would skip upstream of Edenvale and stick to the lower part.  

Finally the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Area posts maps and routes:

Let's just say they make it sound a lot better than it is... it needs some serious TLC!