Once a source of "Not all you want to know about Texas Adventure Racing," but now just some "leisure" adventure through the eyes of "The K-SPoT"

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

RTNX: Walk When You Have To...

Welcome to Haida Gwaii

rolling outSo, we all got up pretty early the next day since its daylight at about 4am in the morning! Geez! Phil and I even stayed up a bit longer the night before to watch to finale of Ultimate Fighter, but still our internal clocks woke us right up at the crack of dawn. I had a million thoughts buzzing through my mind, mostly about stuff I had decided not to bring. Wanting not to regret not having something, I made a quick stop at the Highliner that moring to retrieve a little more gear. Phil wanted me to get his sleeping pad, so I didn't feel too bad. As soon as I got back, we all rolled out to Mariner's park, where the bike prologue would start.

rollin thru the PRWe got to the park and the only indication that we were in the right place was one Raid the North vehicle--no other teams were there yet! We had to ask and yes they confirmed we were in the right place. Yahoo! We won the pre-prologue! As we sat there by the monkey bars, slowly other teams started to trickle in. ATV productions also rolled in with their cameras--I really can't wait to see their video of the race! After a few more minutes, the park was swarmed with racers, stretching, chatting, and using the monkey bars as a bike stand! The invasion has started! Race management then arrived and tried to bring order to the chaos and soon we were lining up at the main promenade near the park.

A few more anxious moments passed and then finally we were signaled to roll on out towards the ferry docks, through Prince Rupert. Although this was just a ceremonial start, the excitement was palpable--you could tell everyone was just glad to have their gear packed away and were ready to get this thing started! We cruised our way to the docks where we had another stint of waiting. The sun had made a rare appearance, so Jen and I decided to lean back on a set of concrete traffic barriers (perfectly shaped for basking in the sun) while Phil and Paul took their bikes up on the ferry (due to space limitations, two bikes had to go on the U-haul trucks while two had to go up on the higher decks of the ferry). We sat there and chatted until we were told to get up and wait inside the gates this time. Tickets were distributed and we started our exodus up the ramp to the ferry. At about this time I had the pleasure of talking to Will and Brian of Dirty Avocados. I briefly met Brian in the flesh at USARA Nationals last year, during a hellish bike carry up the side of a mountain. I say in the flesh because we had previously interacted as Suunto T6 test pilots. We quickly settled in as the ride to Haida Gwaii would take about 5hrs.

arriving at the docksSpace was definitely a luxury on this ferry as there were regular patrons on the boat with us. We had snagged window seats when we got in, but apparently squatting was not allowed. Whenever we left our seats to do whatever we had to do, we'd come back to see that someone had usurped our domain. Oh well. We figured they were here to sightsee so I didn't want to get in the way of their vacation. It turned out to be a series of trying to find an open piece of floor to lay on. Sometime in between our naps, we decided to open up our first set of AlpineAire Inferno meals. We did a sample of the Chicken Booyah (our rally cry for the entire race), Hearty Beef Stew, and Chicken Pasta Parmesan (my favorite!) It tasted really good and everyone around us was so curious that even vacationers were taking pictures of us. Hilarious! As we were enjoying the moment, I noticed that, suprisingly, all the teams seemed really relaxed, as if there was no race of epic proportions about to start in less than a day! Well, when we saw the islands of Haida Gwaii creep up on our horizon, however, that all started to change. Everyone was a buzz of activity again, going over gear strategy, reviewing the maps, filling camelbacks, and packing up sleeping bags. The fog of race was about to begin.

Since two of our teams bikes were on the gear trucks, Jen and I had to walk about a mile to the Haida Heritage Center, our main headquarters for this stage of the race, while Phil and Paul rode ahead to get started unloading our gear. As soon as we got there, gear was just flying everywhere! As the race volunteers shouted out team numbers, their respective boxes shot out of the trucks. Organized chaos. Main TA was situated under a shelter where each team was designated a small island that would be their home for 3.5 days. We barricaded our small plot of land with our gear boxes. With that secured, we tended to pitching up our tent for the night. It was non-stop movement. We had a moment of unwind time as the Haida nation wanted to welcome us formally. They fed us first (always tops in my book!) and then they had a program of talks and ceremonial dances. As they performed their ceremonial dances, I was again in awe of the uniqueness of this race experience. To encourage full participation, they even had all the racers come down and dance traditional female and male dances. That for sure broke all of the tension. But we were abruptly brought back to reality after the welcome program as Chris "HQ" started belting out instructions about our inflatable boats and gear box deadlines that night.

Kenny in KitWe broke out the boats, which were still in their original packaging, and started setting it all up. Although it was probably 10pm at night, we still had enough light to see what we were doing and we even took the boats out for a spin...for some of us, literally. Even though the Tomcats are longer than the dreaded Sevys, they still spin as soon as you stop paddling. I, though not a super paddler, have had experience with the rubber duckies, so I didn't have much trouble steering. But Jen had to take a crash course. After a few test runs, we called it a night and turned in. Yes, the tent was a multi-person tent, but we were still quite cramped. My face was into the wall of the tent for most of the night, which didn't make for much confortable sleep. To accentuate the experience, the team next to us was a set of chatterboxes. Thankfully, they eventually fell asleep. But lets just say it wasn't that hard to get up early--they were up chattering like birds at the first sight of daylight! I barely got any sleep, so it really wasn't that hard for me to get out of that cramped space. It was race mode now.

Stage 1: Graham Island

We were set and staged our boats on the beach. The sunrise was spectacular and well-timed. With a few parting comments from Geoff, we were off at 6am sharp, running our boats to the shore. The start was the expeceted bobbing and weaving through traffic and finally getting into a steady cadence. At first, both of our boats seemed to be equally matched, but as we took the turn around the small island Phil and I started to gap Jen and Paul. Obviously the tough steering was starting to show its effects. We weren't the only team having problems, so I wasn't too worried. We were paddling, of course, into a headwind, so there was a definite decision point as we paddled to CP1, which was on the other side of a big island. Going right of the big island seemed to be shorter, but it put you smack dab into the wind. While going to the left looked to be a bit longer, it gave teams sufficient shelter. At this point, we decided for shelter. As we got closer to the lee side of the island, it was obvious that it was working--the water was turning into-near glass conditions. We then had one other decision point--go left where there was an obvious wide gap between islands (most teams did this), or go right where there MIGHT be a small gap between islands. We went for this riskier route because it was shorter. As we could see, only 3 teams went this way. It was like being in a cove as there was no wind at all and I was actually getting a bit warm. The opening was not visible for about 9/10ths of this leg of the paddle, so we were nervous for the whole way. But as we got closer, we saw one of the top teams glide by the opening! Considering we were quite a bit back from the leaders at the start, this was confirmation of our good route choice! We shot out of the opening and we were in the thick of things again!

loading upHere we ran into Dancing Pandas, which are a fun-loving group of racers with the right attitude. Tom seemed to fixate on the fact that I was from Houston, but that seemed to be popular at the race--every other team seemed to call us the team from Houston! Too funny, but there were a few teams who knew of HART there, so that was a good feeling. I looked back at the teams who decided to take the route into the wind and I could tell we were back into midpack. We skirted around a few more smaller islands and "booyah!" CP1! We arrived there in 11th place--not bad for being our first expedition! We quickly transitioned out of our paddling gear, which is not easy considering the mandatory, yet useful, wetsuit we had to wear. We took time to apply Desitin as we knew foot care would be paramount, especially in this wet environment. It must have been quite a sight with Paul rubbing Desitin on my feet using surgical gloves...I'm HOPING that Jen didn't take a pic of that! In no time, we were off for the monstrous trek of my life.

Okay, Lawrence said it would take us 5-10hrs to clear the whole trekking leg, up to CP3, so that's what we had planned for. It started of quite nicely with a clear logging road that skirted the channel in the direction we wanted to go. In an attempt to conserve energy, we started with a brisk walk/light jog combo that seemed to be working. Along the way, we caught up with Race the Rockies, the team Andrew races with up in Canada. They were really nice and we had a good convo with them, but they obviously wanted to put distance between us and them, which was fine. As we were following the logging road to the base of a mountain where CP2 was perched upon, Phil spotted a side road that split to the left. At first, we disregarded it, but as we continued on the road it seemed to veer too far north and then we could no longer see the mountain ridge we were shooting for. We also lost sight of Trounce Inlet, which we were supposed to be skirting up until a stream inlet. So we doubled-back, accompanied by Team Zissou, which turned out to be the correct route. But of course, correct does not mean easy.

Haida children performingThe logging road was clear for the first mile or so, but we then ran into a landslide of trees that seemed to be caused by an avalanche. And that pretty much marked the beginning of the end of our smooth ride. We were now climbing downed trees, scurrying up and down steep scree, and whacking through ever-thickening brush. We caught up to Dancing Pandas and traveled a bit together until a major bridge crossing presented itself. This was the stream that we had decided early on (with the recommendation of Lawrence) to take up to CP2. We stayed on the eastern side of the reentrant while DP went on the other side. At first, it looked like we were making better time, albeit through a lot of mossy, rotten, large fallen trees. Then they disappeared. No worries--we were going our own way, racing our own race. But apparently our "race" was going to be tough. It was tree after tree after tree that we had to either scoot over or under. At the same time, we had to go higher to make the saddle we were shooting for, so that made it even more tiring, especially for this 5-yr Houstonite. Even more disheartening is that we kept running into crevasses and reentrants along the way that we had to sketchily negotiate. With a 1:50,000 map and 100ft contour intervals, it was easy to miss these things, even though they could be 100ft in height! After talking to teams, it seemed that they all had experienced this headache, but for our inexperienced team it was grating on us hard while we were in the moment.

As we pushed on, I looked over my shoulder to the left, up to the peak that we were hoping to get to and I noticed little figures trickling down the slope. Friggin-A...teams were already heading down from the CP! And they seemed to be so far away--at least 5 more hrs of trekking if the terrain was going to be like this. 5-10hrs my arse! It was going to take us at least 10hrs just to get to CP2. Regardless, we kept on, because what else were we going to do? We eventually hit the saddle we were looking for, but we still had a lot of climbing to do. We were at about 2200ft and we had to get to 3500ft...and the climbing was getting steeper. I knew I should have done more hillwork...then again, I doubt it would have made a difference in this terrain. We started to see snow and at the same time we started running into teams who were on their way down. These teams included Race the Rockies...wtf?!? They ran off straight on that road while we veered off on the "right" road. I still, to this day, have no idea how they got up that mountain so fast using that route...unless they doubled-back eventually like we did. Anyway, we put on our extra layers as the temps were starting to drop significantly. We began hitting snow fields and this was my first glissading experience. First on feet, but eventually on my butt since it took a lot less energy...the tradeoff was a wet rear end.

how low can you go?!As we ascended into the treeless landscape, we started to see victims of the trecherous terrain. One of Team Supplier Pipeline's members had suffered a hematoma from falling on a rock. Having experienced a serious one like he did, I understood the pain he was going through--if was anything like mine, where my leg ballooned to at least 3 times its normal size, he was not going anywhere fast. They were in the process of calling for an extraction via helicopter and as we trudged past them and gained some elevation, we heard the distinctive rotors of the chopper descending upon their location. It was surreal with the magnificent backdrop--we could now see the Inlet we skirted, far in the distance, as we were at about 3k feet. As we observed this, Running Free was heading down with one troubled teammate of their own. Apparently he had been feeling off all day long and hasn't been able to shake it off, so they too were going to decend to the same, flat spot on the mountain to radio for help. This is ridiculous, I was thinking to myself. Thankfully, we would get slight respite after getting CP2 code.

On our way back down, we stopped and rested a bit with Running Free as they waited for their extraction. There was a fire, so it was nice to just sit by it for a short while, but we had to keep going. So we were off again, shooting for the saddle we had just past to get to the other valley on our way to CP3. This involved more precarious downclimbing that was sapping our energy, so as soon as we got to the saddle, we observed a 15min rest period. We sat as the frogs around us chirped away as soon as we were quiet for a few seconds. It was starting to get dark so we pulled out our headlamps and plunged into the dark abyss of the thick rainforest. The brush and fallen trees just kept coming at us with no respite. After a few more hours, we decided to bed down for a couple of hours until sunrise to get some rest and hoping that we would be fresher mentally and physically in the morning. Whatever we did on the side of that mountain, it wasn't sleep. Although we welcomed the rest and quickly plopped down in "puppy-pile" position with emergency blankets over us, we were still freezing, unable to really fall asleep. Let me tell you, spooning with 3 people you just met a couple days ago was definitely an odd experience, but I got over it quick, to say the least. We were all shivering. I think I was able to lose consciousness for a few minutes, but alas the light had come back and we quickly, and amazingly, sprung right up. More with this damn forest.

boats stagedI had basically had enough of the combination of off-canter climbing and hopping large fallen trees, so I requested that we try going lower on the hillside, closer to the stream. Although this didn't give us respite from the logs, it did give us level ground to work with. We stopped at a stream at the bottom of the reentrant to refill our water bladders and then we pushed on again. A welcome sight--a logging road! We wouldn't use it, but it gave us some confirmation that we were heading the right way. Then, it seemed that we were crossing streams every 500 meters or so, making the threat of trench foot very much reality. In fact, throughout the entire race, our feet were never really dry. We got to the stream we were supposed to follow up to the next reentrant and saddle and followed it west. In a preemtive strike kind of way, we decided to start climbing the side of the reentrant pretty early--this would be a fatal flaw. As we made our way up, we kept running into cliffed out sections again. The climbing was so steep, the only protection we had was grabbing onto grass and roots coming out of the ground. No, we are not smart. In fact, on one dicey section, Jen, who was just in front of me and just below Phil, out of reach, was crossing a slippery rock. She lost hold and thankfully, last second, grabbed onto a tree branch, arresting her fall. If she hadn't been so nimble, she would have easily tumbled down at least 50ft, most likely ending our race right there.

waiting to startThat was about the time we were losing our taste for taking unneccessary risk. Thankfully, we finally reached the top of the ridge we were climbing. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the wrong ridge! I knew something was wrong when Paul was shouting out bearings that made no sense. I wasn't paying much attention to the detailed navigation as they were lead naving, but I did remember needing to go in a general northwest direction...so when he said we were going in a southwesterly direction, alarm bells started to sound. I looked at the map, terrain associated, and realized we were way off course. We had unknowingly took a southwestern branch of the stream, meaning we would have to ridge walk quite a way just to get back on course. Meaning, at least another half day just to get to the saddle. Considering we had already run out of food several hours back, were running out of water on this ridge and the fog was decending on the mountain tops making it almost impossible to see crevasses, it was big decision time. I looked over to the other ridge we needed to get to and just saw snow-filled crevasse after crevasse (of what I could see through the fog), so I knew travel would be dangerous, especially in our weakened state. And I could tell that our team didn't think it was worth risking our lives. So, reluctantly, we finally called it.

we're off!We broke out the radio. Well, we actually tried using the radio earlier in the day just to let HQ know we were okay since we were way overdue but we could not get a hold of them. We could actually hear Team 6 calling for help too, but we nor anyone else could seem to reach them either. Anyway, we tried again, but same result--nada. We tried and tried, but to no avail. We finally decided that they wouldn't be able to land a helicopter in this rough terrain anyway, so we looked for a route down the other side of the ridge that would be safer. We figured we could head down to water and then try the radio again, hoping the coast guard would be able to come and ferry us back home. The way down was treacherous still, but we had already committed to this route, so no going back now. I just couldn't believe how there were no easy routes--this truly was wilderness navigation! We finally got down and followed a river, hopefully leading us to an inlet. And when we thought we had seen the worst of it, it just got ridiculous. Now the logs were just piled up on top of each other, making us have to scale 3 or 4 large logs at a time! WTF?! There had to be a better way, so we looked at the map again. We, again, had to collect ourselves and figure out where we were, then realized that there SHOULD be a logging road just south of us. We headed south and BINGO! It wasn't very clear, but it was clearer than the crap we were muscling through earlier, so we took it.

easy road right after paddle--that would change (CP2 on snow-covered peak in background)This leg was thankfully uneventful and we eventually made our way to the inlet. What made this even better was that we saw a group huddled around a fire at the end of the logging road...it was another team! It was Team BanffLodgingCo.com. They had already built a large fire, called into race HQ, and ordered a Coast Guard boat extraction. So all we had to do was wait and hitch a ride. It was amazing because if we had taken about 45min longer, we would have missed them...our first break of the race. We sounded our whistles and launched our flares then headed to the beach. There was the coast guard--they eventually saw us and sped towards us in their zodiac. The zodiac could only take 4 at a time, so they had to make two trips out and back to the ship. They had turned on the heater full blast, so as soon as we got below deck we were in heaven. Considering our situation, everyone seemed to be in good spirits. In about 30mins we were at Queen Charlotte City, where Geoff was waiting for us. A couple of the BanffLodgingCo.com team members thought we were closer to the Haida Heritage Center and decided to hoof it back. Geoff didn't realize this until we were already driving down the road, so he vowed to come back to pick them up since it was a lot longer of a run.


old growth forests are fun!So we had all resigned that this was the end of the road for us and were already trying to plan what to do: ride our bikes around town, chill in the center, etc. But first, we were very, very hungry! We arrived at the Heritage Center and Geoff informed us that the Haida nation had provided some food for the volunteers, staff, and racers unexpectedly. We were all over that! We charged to the dining area and scarfed down whatever was there--it was soooooo good! That's when I heard some interesting news. Aparently, following their mantra of letting teams complete as much of the course as physically possible, Geoff was allowing teams to continue from this point even though they were provided assistance. This included the teams who were provided assistance to make it to CP3 as well since they were then rerouted to the Heritage Center (Lawrence was PHYSICALLY going up on the mountain to escort teams to CP3). I, without a doubt, was all over this--it was a second chance! But not all of us were up for it at first--when the engine is turned off its hard to restart. So we agreed to sleep on it and wake up early and decide what to do. My reasoning was, "what the f*** else are you gonna do?!?" Anyway, I maintained patience and slept in the dark, warm auditorium and was out in one second...

view from one of the mountain passes on first leg (Team Expedition Canada)"Kenny! Kenny!" I woke up dazed and not knowing where I was or who this strange man calling out my name was. It was Paul--I was out like a light! Thank goodness he was in charge of waking us up in the morning or I probably would have slept through the rest of the race! We slowly got up and had breakfast and discussed the race. Thankfully everyone had a cheerier outlook and we were definitely going back out there! So it was back to rush mode, trying to get everything packed and ready to go in gear bins and backpacks. You can bet that we packed a lot more food this time around--or at least I did! Man, I was so pumped--I didn't care how hard it was going to be...I was just so happy for a second chance. And, yes, it was hard.

Next, Stage 2: Moresby Island...

*special thanks to teammate, Jen, for some of these photos


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