This blog recently auto-renewed itself. Had I been thinking ahead I might have returned the blog to a free state. Now I feel as though I need to make use of my inadvertent purchase. Like a new year’s resolution I move forward with naive determination. I’ve found myself ruminating on youthful experiences lately. The following is one of those. As I nag my children to get outside, to be adventurous, to put down their devices I’m drawn to my own childhood. Those were days of the Sega and Nintendo but we couldn’t download games from the cloud. We collected enough pop-bottles to cash in at the store for the deposit money. We walked clear across town to the video store and rented games that we played for as long as the rental allowed. I am left with a sense of nostalgia and longing for the 90s. Will my children tell stories like these?
Thirty hours and eight minutes. That is how long it took Brenton and me to circumnavigate the Bowron Lake circuit last weekend. We should have finished in about 22 and a half hours but when we reached the mouth of the Bowron River (more of a snaking lake) it was nearing 1am and we talked ourselves out of the final 11k to the finish and into a tent. It was dark and I was nervous about the possibility of upsetting in the river (however remote that possibility was). It would be one thing to swim into shore from the lake but the Bowron River is a tangle of brush and swamp that could prove a great hazard in the dark and in our fatigued condition than I think we could handle. We’d been paddling for more than 19 hours at that point and a chunk of that directly into a strong head wind that churned up waves just high enough to cap white as they crested and fell.
It was dark but not nearly as dark as it could have been. In February I found myself with two friends (including Brenton) circumnavigating this same lake circuit but on skis. That trip took about 6 days and several of those consisted of travel that took us into the dark of night. A vivid memory of stars glittering in profusion across an inky black sky is still emblazoned on my mind. This night, though nearly as clear, was framed in the soft light of a full moon. It rose resplendent directly behind us as we raced toward the sinking sun. In the last rays of twilight bats hunted insects around our gliding double kayak. We were crossing the well named Spectacle lake at that point and I couldn’t help but recall the scene a few months back on that same lake. There was about an inch of water covering the ice that looked nearly like a mirror. The red purple sky and the ashen winter greens of the surrounding hills reflected from it as we slipped across its surface. The words are inadequate but perhaps they convey a sense of why I keep going back to this place?
Brenton and I left for the chain at about 2pm Friday evening. The chain is about a 3 hour drive from Prince George. We rented a cabin at Bear River Mercantile just a kilometre from the trail head. We stayed there the night before our winter ski adventure too. It isn’t the Ritz but it is clean, warm and comfortable and the hosts are lovely. I slept soundly. That sound sleep is a reflection of some gained maturity, I hope. In the last couple years I’ve found that I can sleep soundly before races or adventures of all sorts. I used to toss and turn brimming with anticipation and excitement. The anticipation and the excitement remain but they are tempered somehow, by experience perhaps?
Having checked in with the park Friday evening we were up at 3:30am on Saturday to be on the trail before 4:30am if possible. We learned during checkin that there were two other vessels attempting an under 24 hour circuit that day. One of them, a husband and wife team, we understood would be on the trail by 3:00am. The other, a soloist, left Friday evening at 9pm and we later learned had finished before noon on Saturday. Apparently, the fastest tandem time is 11 hrs, 47 mins and 27 seconds (if I’ve remembered correctly). The soloist had the right idea. By leaving at 9pm the sun was setting at his back as he travelled east. By the time the sun was cresting the eastern horizon in the morning he was heading west and racing it to the finish. We on the other were travelling with the sun in our eyes on the way in and out.
The bulk of the circuit’s portage trails are completed in the first 30 kilometres as you walk into Kibee Lake, then on to Indian Point and finally into the western arm of Isaac Lake. The morning cloud and fog on Indian Point Lake was incredible. A thin cloud, a deep blue colour I’ve never seen, snaked through the spruce trees to our left but directly ahead was the scene of some sort of theophany. The fog lifted from the lake in wispy tendrils reaching up to embrace the low dark clouds and blended together as if the lake were pouring itself into the sky. Through it all the sun burst every crack and thin veil to drive beams of light onto the rippling waters which reflected them like frosted glass. We paddled into the light.
At the marshy end of Indian Point we spotted our first moose, a bull. We’d see 8 moose this trip. Though there have been plenty of bear sightings on the circuit this year (both black and grizzly) to our disappointment we saw none. We did get a good look at a young buck and a fat beaver along with a myriad of birds including, of course, several beautiful birds of prey.
The thirty two kilometre eastern arm of Isaac lake is without a doubt one of the more mentally challenging parts of this circuit. Its not as if there is nothing to look at. The water is an aqua marine colour that along the shore is clear all the way to the bottom. Every now and then a gushing white water spills from the steep shoreline into the lake and you are heading directly toward 4 snow capped craggy peaks. You are quite literally paddling across a Bob Ross painting. The problem is you feel trapped in that painting. The lake just goes on and on. We covered the distance in about 5 hours with only two brief stops. The first of which was a Brenton emergency to straighten his poor back. Thankfully a quick stretch seemed to fix him up for the rest of the trip. I know this circuit pretty well now but Isaac lake always tricks me. “The end is just around this point,” I’ll say only to follow it up with “oh I mean this next point or maybe this next point.” Stepping out at the end of the lake and the head of the Isaac River is always accompanied with a sense of gratitude.
The Isaac river is squeezed out of the lake between a rocky shore line to make a 90 degree right turn. They call it “The Chute.” You have the option of portaging around it but, really! Brenton and I debated whether we’d run the kayak through the chute or make the portage. I didn’t press too hard because I knew something he didn’t. From the shore the chute looks rather gentle. Certainly, the right turn is wide and the water though rolling and breaking gives the impression of gentle power. We pulled into shore and I headed over to inspect the chute. When I came back I said “before we unload maybe just stretch your legs and have a look at the river.” Brenton knew what I was doing but he went anyway. It took him moments to be seduced by the river. “Okay, let’s do it!”
The first time I paddled the chute I was with Lisa. We portaged our gear around it to walk back and take our empty canoe down the water. A practical precaution. If you roll over its nice not to send all your gear over the Isaac falls. That first run down the river was a success but not before spinning us around in a complete 360 and graciously spitting us out the other side a little wet but still floating. My skills have improved remarkably since then but my experience in a kayak is next to nothing. As you approach the chute from the lake and feel the immense power of the water push you along you realize the deception of the shoreline view too late to turn back. You sit much lower in a kayak than you do in a canoe. My adrenaline rose rapidly as the chute pulled us in and I waited for the right moment to burry the rudder and my paddle. “Here we go!” My paddle dug in at the bottom of a rolling wave and its crest swamped the back of the kayak. The skirt kept the majority of the water out but the weight of the water gave me a moment of terror that we would roll as we came to what felt like a dead stop. “Pull hard Brenton, pull!” With increased strength and determination he drove us free of the gripping force of the water and down stream. A few hundred meters down the river you run through what they call the “roller coaster.” Its a narrowing of the river that creates a series of rolling waves. Having successfully navigated the chute I had a flash of anger when I thought we were about to be driven against a rock at the edge of the roller coaster. It was a fleeting feeling as the river swept us safely beyond. The nose of the kayak took a bit of a dive and it was Brenton’s turn to have the river attempt to pull him down. he had forgotten to fully zip up his kayak skirt and ended up with a few gallons of water in his lap. In the end we made it safely down the river full of adrenaline and recovered from the gross monotony of Isaac’s 32 kilometres.
A couple portages and a small stretch of river later we passed the deafening roar of the Isaac falls into McCleary Lake. This is my favourite place on the entire chain. It’s a small lake in a small valley. The Isaac falls crashes down just out of view from the lake but the dull roar of it can be heard echoing off the mountains that enclose it. A small trappers’ cabin lies lopsided like a beached boat on its eastern bank. Spruce, cedar and fir trees rise powerfully from the steep hillsides surrounding it. The shore line is reedy and swampy drawing moose to the feed. Those snowcapped peaks seen from Issac lake tower above it all and at their base gently rolls the Cariboo River. There is something restorative about the place that I can’t describe. Its about the half way point on the circuit and thus about the most remote, hemmed in as it is by the Isaac and Cariboo rivers. Should the zombie apocalypse bring modern society to a crashing halt you can find me on McCleary Lake fishing.
In no time we were leaving this little paradise and entering the Cariboo River. The contrast of this trip’s 30 minute ride down the 5 kilometres of the Cariboo and the slog we made in February was palpable. This last winter was a warm one and the river was open when we reached it in February. In snowshoes and drawing our 80 pound sleds we were forced to traverse the rough shoreline down to Lanezi Lake. It took us ten hours to make those 5 kilometres. The river is powerful but not much of a danger if you pay attention. The remnants of the occasional wrecked canoe along the shore are a good reminder to stay vigilant.
The Cariboo River spreads its silt across the entirety of the 14 kilometre Lanezi Lake. It’s a murky green. It is here that you shift from the cooler rougher ecosystem of the east side of the chain to a gentler warmer less mighty western side. By the time we’d traversed the majority of Lanezi we were going on our longest stretch in the kayak without a reprieve (even n the Issac we pulled off twice). We were therefore sore and tired when the wind began to push the lake back up the Cariboo River. We ducked in and out of every bend in the shoreline to escape the wind but it was a tremendous battle. There is a campsite at the end of Lanezi and we pulled in for a bio break and to boil water for dinner. The plan was to boil the water, fill up our freeze dried meals and get back in the kayak. One of us would paddle while the other ate and then we’d switch. The wind made this impossible. It taunted us rushing in in great powerful gusts to then go still for a minute or two before whipping back up. So we sat and ate and lingered spending nearly an hour in hopeful anticipation of a calming of the winds. The winds continued as we climbed back into the kayak and set its nose defiantly into it.
We paddled what remained of Lanezi into the wind and on into Sandy lake where we knew we’d find no protective inlets. We’d have to battle for every inch of that lake. In 2011 Brenton and I as youth leader drug a group of boys around the circuit. When we reached Sandy Lake on that trip we were met with similar winds but also with such torrential rain that it was difficult to tell where the lake ended and the sky began. The rain came with such ferocity that the large drops exploded into the lake sending water shrapnel back into the air. There were storm clouds in the sky on this day too but they were scattered and lacking the power they could have if they joined forces. The sun streamed into our faces with the wind and a fine mist of rain carried from a billowing storm cloud some distance to our right brought a little laughter to my heart. We pulled past the beach where in my minds eye I could see the half dozen canoes, carrying those boys of five years ago, into the sandy shore. The rain brought the boys over their bows like men storming the beaches in some 20th century battle. They fled for whatever cover they could find, (out houses, bear caches, trees) while their leaders pitched an impressive tarp fortress and miraculously built fires beneath them. How on earth did we ever get anything to burn there…? We must have carried the dry wood under tarps in the canoes from a distant wood lot.
One of my favourite pictures is from that youth trip. Its of me sitting in the back of a canoe wearing my favourite leather hat as the rain drips around me. I have the biggest grin on my face. Two of my young men are also sitting in the canoe but looking forlorn and cold. I haven’t seen those two in sometime and I wonder if they’ve yet learned to smile in-spite of the rain. It is true that I said a few silent prayers standing on the beach at the end of Lanezi Lake that the wind might abate and that we could carry on in calm waters. The winds kept on perhaps because that prayer would be answered in the form of strength to endure. You may argue that that hour rest and a good meal were the source of our strength to meet the wind after those first 80k and you’d likely be right but knowing how the miracle is accomplished does not make it any less miraculous to me. I know from whence my strength springs.
So through the wind we travelled down Sandy Lake and the next stretch of the Cariboo River before finding shelter in Babcock creek. We passed that couple that left at 3am on the shores of Spectacle Lake. They’d reached that point when the winds came up and opted to pitch their tent rather than fight that battle. We would meet them the next day at the mouth of the Bowron River and the final sprint to the finish. They passed us there like we were standing still. When we met them at the dock the secret of their speed was revealed in 12 ounce bent shaft paddles and a 25lb white water canoe. I could literally lift their canoe over my head easily with my left hand. I may still be a little green with envy. Brenton and I had to weigh the kayak after that… 98 pounds. The revelation that such equipment existed kept us talking all the way back to Prince George. I’m fairly certain we could complete the circuit in less than 16 hours given the right equipment. Any one out there want to sponsor us? Maybe some company marketing to rad dad weekend warriors… 🙂 we could be the spokesmen for some cool product middle-aged dads everywhere need.
If you’ve managed to read this far your endurance skills could likely take you around the Bowron too. It is perfectly acceptable to take 6-7 days though and completely and utterly worth the time.
At the end of May of this year I was online looking for jobs and wondering what I was going to do with my summer now that I was all caught up in my nursing courses. Just before preparing to head to bed I decided to log into Facebook. Here in our little city we have a Buy and Sell Facebook page for folks in the area wishing to hawk their wares. While scrolling through the list of items for sale I came across a lady looking to sell an old, battered, blue canoe for $20.
The Librarian was already in bed reading a book, though when I mentioned to him that there was a canoe for sale for such a low price he exclaimed, and I quote, “I’d go get it right now!”. I was a little shocked, “right now?” “Yes, right now” he replied. So back to the computer to reply that we would be out to pick it up as soon as possible. The Librarian, who moments before was eager to pick up this steal of deal, sang a entirely different tune when he learned we would need to drive to Mud River (at 9:30pm), a meagre 30 min drive from our door.
It took longer than necessary to get out the door as the Librarian kicked and screamed about the late hour, and length of the needed drive. It was dark when we arrived and we were only able to locate the canoe on the property by the porch light from the front of the house. As we attempted to load the canoe onto the van it was difficult to see the true condition of the boat.
The next day a proper inspection proved that this $20 canoe was worth the money paid. Large cracks, holes, and a completely broken thwart and yoke were tokens of the work I had ahead of me. That’s right, ME. From the moment I convinced the Librarian to drive to the “middle of nowhere” in the “middle of the night” he was not going to be involved anymore.
So I borrowed some sawhorses, thanks bro-in-law, and set to work sanding. After 3 hours of sanding I had gone through 3-1/3 sheets of sandpaper, and killed my rotary sander. The canoe was still very, very blue. A little discouraged I put a call out for a sander and in no time had a replacement loaner, THANK YOU! Long story short, I stopped counting sanding hours after 24, the canoe was significantly yellower, and I was ready to fix some holes.
This didn’t happen right away. I had never worked with fibreglass before and was nervous about the process. Many forums suggested the ease of the process, and to “just follow the instructions on the container”…my container didn’t come with instructions did it? YouTube and some trial and error and I got things figured out. You can learn how to do anything on YouTube!
By the beginning of August I was ready for some paint…I think. I wasn’t sure how much preparation needed to be done and if I had done enough. So again I held off until I had read, reread and reread many forums, as well as watching several different YouTube videos over and over until I felt comfortable. Once I felt mentally prepared to paint I went searching. I talked to several people at Home Hardware and Home Depot about what paint to use (since neither places carry any Marine Enamel), they weren’t very helpful and even contradicted what I had read in all my research. I was told purchasing Marine Enamel was going to be VERY expensive, and I could easily end up paying close to $100 for a quart. This left me with the impression that I did not want to buy paint from anyone up here in the woods, does anyone around here even own a boat they have to maintain themselves… apparently not 😉
We had a trip planned to Vancouver and so I made sure at some point we would detour to Western Canoe and Kayak, BC’s local Clipper retailer. A few weeks earlier when I was finishing up the sanding, I had pulled an identifier plate off that canoe. We wrote WC&K asking them for any info they could give us. We received this response:
The Explorer was certainly a classic. Very stable and a nice river tripping canoe. Yes this model was discontinued in the mid 80’s. The canoe was originally produced by Goddu Manufacturing in Mission. We purchased the company, Clipper Canoes and all the molds in the late 70’s.
When we went into the store I had some pointed questions that the sales clerk couldn’t answer. So she introduced me to the shop Wiz (a grumpy, older fellow-probably irritated about being torn away from his work). He explained that I should be able to get the paint I needed from Canadian Tire, and sold me a set of Clipper decals for $12 (but only after I showed him the identifier plate and made an oath that the decals would only go on a Clipper).
So off to Canadian Tire I pranced. Prince George Canadian Tire had 1 quart of white Marine Enamel for $35. Not the colour I wanted but I thought I had better grab it while it was there. The moment I left the store, I felt like I hadn’t really shopped around enough (a run-in with my sis-in-law also confirmed that feeling), so I returned the quart and drove around to some speciality paint shops. General Paints was my first stop but they only had “Safety Yellow” available. This was closer to the colour I wanted but maybe too bright? Cloverdale paints ended up being the place to go. Not only did they have the colour I wanted, they had a whole booklet of colours for a special Nursing Student price of $22/quart. PERFECT!
Some refreshers from YouTube and I was off painting. Sanding, then painting, sanding, then painting, sanding, then painting, sanding, then painting, and finally wet sanding. One would think my arms would be a whole lot bigger from all the sanding I have done in the last 4 months….
4 coats in total, and it looks WAY better than before. Not perfect, but pretty darn great for my first time ever doing something like this. I’m not sure how to really finish it, some more YouTube research is in my future. The gunwales will be painted white, and the yoke still needs some attention at this point. So I’ll post an update when that is complete.
I realize this isn’t a very technical post, for those who were looking for that sort of thing. If you would like more detailed information I’ll do my best to respond.
In between sanding coats of marine enamel on the canoe I decided I clearly didn’t have enough sanding to do and ended up sanding my paddles down to the wood. They were well used while we were out of the country and required some serious TLC. Two out of three of the paddles were worn to the wood (likely from dragging along the gunwale of the canoe) and were heavily water damaged, discolouring the wood. Once sanded down I decided I wanted to put a little extra flair and effort into their repair. I had thought about pyrographing a design onto the paddles, but not feeling confident in my wood burning skills decided to paint a design onto the paddles with Acrylic paint instead. The results turned out far better than I imagined. I finished off the paddles with several coats of an oil-based polyurethane (sanding in between coats of course) and voila, brand new paddles.
The Canadian Death Race (CDR) was my second ultra marathon. At 125 kilometres it is nearly double the distance of the first ultra I ran back in September, 2014. At the time I thought that ultra was pretty tough with some significant elevation change. Here is a little perspective for you: my total time for the 63k Mad Moose Ultra was a little less than 7 and 1 half hours. So when I finished leg 2 of the 5 leg CDR having run only 46k with a time of 7 hours and 3 minutes I began to realize this was a different breed of race.
There were somewhere between 1000-1500 runners in the CDR. This made for a fun start with the music going and a charged atmosphere as runners tried desperately to find an appropriate pace. The first leg is rated the easiest at 19k with comparatively tame trails. I say comparatively because on its own a good chunk of the leg is fairly technical and a few poor souls took some hard falls early on.
Jeremy and I strolled into the leg 1 finish in a cool 2 hours 3 minutes. The crowd was thick in the transition and spectators cheered us on. Jeremy was good about hustling us through the pit stop. I tend to take too long at these places.
Leg 2 began to climb almost immediately. We ran some distance on a quad track before entering single track that proceeded nearly straight up the side of a mountain. We planned to share a single set of poles. This it turns out was foolish. Running the CDR would be exponentially more difficult without two good running poles.
Before reaching our first summit Jeremy began to take a turn for the worse. He soon had both poles and was struggling to keep up. He began suggesting I go on without him at about K25. I hoped he was just hitting an early wall and we could push through. We moved slowly down the mountain in a tight pack of runners. The downhill so steep that many runners had to slide down on their rears. In dips and valleys we found mud and muskeg which made for even slower going.
At k31 Jeremy looked pale and was insistent that I move on without him. He threatened to pull out of the race all together unless I took the poles and left him there. He planned to take an hour and try to recuperate. I figured a remote possibility of his completing was better than none so I did as I was told and moved on. I’ll be honest, I thought he was done at that point. This was a serious blow to my mental state. It helped that I quickly began overtaking many runners but thoughts of how Jeremy was likely out of the race made progress bitter sweet.
Up and up leg 2 continued, culminating with a spectacular view of the surrounding country side. Any thoughts of the worst of the leg being over were quickly dashed. The trail followed a power line nearly directly down the face of the mountain. It was so steep that I began longing for the uphill. The incline was taking a toll on my quads which were now nearly shredded. I pictured Jeremy coming down that trail without poles and tried not to complain.
Jeremy had drug himself into the aid station where the medics gave him a rundown. He was wrapped in a blanket to combat the chills he was experiencing and he learned that his resting pulse rate was in excess of 128 beats per minute! The medics considered pulling him from the race but decided to let him sit an hour and check his fitness to continue then. So as I was approaching the end of the power line from hell Jeremy had recuperated and set off to run me down.
I saw the most beautiful woman in the world wearing a fluorescent vest (Lisa) marshaling runners through an intersection just 800 meters from the end of leg 2 (which happens to be the start/finish line). I met Lilli and Kirsten at the line who were kind enough to crew for me. Meaning, they filled my water bottles and watched over my stuff. They were awesome having waited around for us to show up 2 hours longer than we anticipated arriving. And there was no “we.” Jeremy was still out there!
A blister had begun to form on my right heel. I took some time in transition to clean it and apply mole skin. For a month I debated buying new shoes but put it off until, in typical James fashion, I broke down and bought new trail shoes two days before the race! Do you really need to break shoes in nowadays? Turns out the shoes worked great, all things considered.
It was 3:00pm when I finished leg 2 well under the 5:30 cutoff but much longer than I’d planned to be. The girls wanted to know what to do with Jeremy’s gear. I refused to give up on him and asked they leave it where it was and have mom come down and crew for him (as the girls were scheduled to take over Lisa’s volunteer tasks at 3pm).
Leg 3 followed the river valley for 19k. Frankly, I think this was the easiest leg of the race (it was less technical than leg 1). The weather may have had something to do with its relative ease. I understand that generally this trail is fraught with bogs and mud. The dry weather left just enough room on the edges of the puddles to keep our feet dry. Realizing that this leg would have few hills I held back a little to give my legs a little time for recovery before the onslaught of leg 4.
I arrived at the end of leg 3 at about 6:20. The transitions between legs were great. There were plenty of people to cheer you on as you ran in. I love to get the crowd going so I always pick up the pace a little and shout something like: “I can’t feel my legs!” (That one always draws a cheer).
I must have looked a little out of sorts at the end of this leg as the nurse was grilling me hard or maybe it was the comment about my legs. This was the furthest I’d ever run! I’d just covered 65k and run for a little over 10 hours and I understood quite profoundly that I was only about half way. After a short rest long enough to refill my bottles and shove some food in me I would be off. I took a moment to pull out my phone and switch off airplane mode (airplane mode to conserve battery life). Rats, no cell service. There was no way to know for sure if Jeremy was out or if he managed to carry on.
So, unknown to me Jeremy was only 40 minutes behind me. He had come into the leg 2/3 transition about an hour after I’d left it. Unlike me he did not have the luxury of holding back on leg 3 and he had just descended leg 2’s quad crushing descent without poles. He made up over 20 minutes in leg 3. A look back at his splits put him in the top 30 soloist runners for that leg – he was moving! As Jeremy approached the transition spectators rallied to let him know he was moments from the cutoff and to make it he’d have to sprint it in. I wish I had been there to watch as he dug in to race the clock. He timed in right at 7pm and then promptly threw up.
10 minutes later Jeremy was still at the aid station in recovery when another soloist came in to find she’d missed the cutoff. Runners can be the nicest folks. She was happy to lend Jeremy her poles for the remainder of the race. He would need them.
Starting out on leg 4 I was with a nice older lady who was completing the leg as a relay team. I managed to stay with her for about a kilometer and a half before she pulled away. I knew she had fresh legs and certainly was deceptively athletic but watching her pull away at the beginning of the steep climb up Mt. Hamel was quite the reality check.
I’ve heard other racers talk about this leg as the “assault” up Mt. Hamel. I’m not so sure who exactly is being assaulted… I have a feeling it’s the runner and not the mountain. It is an ascent of over 2000 feet on ever steeper switch backs. There is a bail out part way up the mountain (a couple stoic volunteers in a Jeep). I dug my poles in when I reached them and rested for a moment or two.
Leg 4 is 38 kilometers. I fell in with a group of runners part way up the mountain and it turned out that several had attempted to solo the run in the past. For some this was their 2nd or 3rd attempt. One able looking veteran in pink socks indicated that it was best to reach the end of the leg by 2am at the latest – 7 hours away! Another reality check!
Just short of the summit I realized I had not eaten anything in a couple hours. My stomach really didn’t want me putting anything in it. I was suffering from stomach cramps and even the thought of food threatened to have me expel all I had managed to ingest. I forced myself off the trail and sat down. Without exception every passing runner asked if I was alright (such nice people). I forced down an Eatmore bar refusing to stand until it was all gone.
The summit of Mt. Hamel provided some spectacular views. I arrived there just as the sun was setting. The bald mountain top looked down on Grand Cache and the stunning rolling Smoky River valley.
The wind was intense at the summit. I would only be up there for a short time (they make you run the length of the table top mountain and back – more than a kilometer). I resisted getting out my jacket, toque and gloves until I realized that I must be bleeding energy fast to keep myself warm.
So it was that a few kilometers later on the far side of Mt. Hamel I was sitting on a rock in what the race organizers called “Boulder Garden.” I was stowing my cold weather gear and the sun was setting fast. I had made a fatal mistake. Jeremy and I (more optimistic than prudent) had stowed our headlamps in our drop bags which were at Ambler Loop about 7-10 kilometres away.
Naturally, the first runner to come across me on that rock asked how I was doing and I mentioned my predicament. She didn’t hesitate to lend me her spare torch. Otherwise I may have had to follow a runner with a light and that had nothing but disaster written all over it. A few hours later I would learn that a runner tripped in the dark on Ambler Loop to cut her knees, elbows, bloody her nose and break a finger. (Thanks for the assistance Erin – if you are reading this).
It was a further blow to arrive at Ambler Loop to my drop bag which was clipped to Jeremy’s. Was he still out there? Was he without poles on that unforgiving ground? His headlamp was in the bag at my feet.
I believe it was about midnight when I arrived at Ambler Loop. The support staff here were fantastic. There was a fire burning and a chair seemed to be waiting just for me. After a quick rest and a forced feeding I set out on the loop. Here was a segment of trail I could wrap my head around. It was 5 kilometers. To this point with just a watch I was out of touch with my pace. I thought I must be taking as much as an hour to cover 5k and was beginning to worry about cutoff times. When I finished the loop I was rather pleased to see I’d made the distance in almost exactly 40 minutes. Another 10.5 kilometers would bring me to the end of leg 4 and the home stretch.
A steady downhill on a dirt road, fantastic. I can make up time here. I ran with a nice guy for a while until stomach cramps forced me off the road. If you think burpees are hard try squatting next to a tree after running 100k. Yeah, there is just nothing pleasant about that picture.
I pulled into the end of leg 4 pretty pleased with myself that it was only 2am. Another forced eating and I took 20 minutes here – I felt I deserved it. I checked my phone and found I had cell service. I texted Lisa to find out how Jeremy was doing. She hadn’t heard from him so that could mean only one thing – he was on the trail! He was still in this thing!
I toyed with the idea of waiting for Jeremy at the aid station but I had no idea if he’d make all the cutoff times. How long could I wait? If I sat too long would I be able to get going again? I had to push on and hope for the best.
Leg 5 was single track and some quad trails through fairly dense forest. There were reflective tacks pinned into trees along the route to help you find the way. It was a bit spooky at times running without another soul in sight through the shadowed canopy of the forest. To hear the patterned footfall of a runner far ahead or behind was actually a comfort.
It was a quick, though creepy, 7k of twisting trails to the next aid station. Again I forced down some food. It was a fruit source bar that tasted like dirty feet. After just a few minutes I left the aid station to make my way to the river just a few hundred meters away.
I rounded a corner to descend on the river bank and standing on the shore was Death. The river roiled black behind him and cast a mist upon the bank. He stood, motionless, in flowing black robes his face a skull. His right hand held a clear chalice filled with silver coins. The price of passage already paid by runners that had come before. At the start of the race every runner was given a coin to pay the ferryman. I’d stashed my coin in a gel pocket of my pack. With relief I paid the toll and climbed aboard the river boat leaving Death to collect the fairs of those that would come behind.
This was it. 15 kilometers and the race was over. I understood, however, that there were two rather aggressive hills between me and the finish line and I wasn’t sure how much I had left. It was 4:12 when I left the boat and I went straight at it. There was no way to know how fast I was traveling or how slow! After what felt like forever I saw a kilometer marker. It read 3k! “What! Are you serious,” I thought! I must be moving at 20 minutes per kilometer. I began to wonder about my ability to make the finish line by 8am. I pushed on as the sun broke the horizon and I caught glimpses of Grand Cache at what seemed an unreasonable distance away.
I eventually caught the group that had taken the boat before me. They were confident we were making good time but I couldn’t believe it. I broke away from them but one, Jeff, kept pace. He assured me we were fine but I was convinced we still had 10k to go and we’re moving too slowly. Then there was suddenly a spectator who congratulated us with the information that we had only 3 kilometres left.
Jeff and I sped walked along the now gravel road together and discussed how tired we were, how stupid this was and how we should stick to easier events like Tough Mudders or Spartan Races. Then we hit pavement and I knew we were less than a kilometre from the finish line.
I left Jeff then and like a horse that has caught the scent of home I broke out. It was a gradual climb I was making but I was doing it at a run and oh how smooth the pavement slid beneath my feet. I was breathing like a steam train but I didn’t care as I passed runner after runner on the final stretch. I thanked my pink socked friend as I passed him by and then was heading down hill and I was fighting tears of joy! Deep breaths. Deep breaths. I rounded the final corner and felt the grass beneath my trail shoes and bolted for the line like I had only been out for a 5k. My water bottles broke free from my pack on my chest and scattered across the field as I came through the line to time in at 6:24:37 am. I’d done it! I’d pushed myself through 125 kilometers. Someone had collected my water bottles and was giving them to me. I then laid down on the grass to take the weight off my feet.
I was only there a few moments when Lisa turned up with the kids. They’d missed me crossing the line by just minutes. I suppose I should have walked the end.
Lisa convinced me to take a shower. If Jeremy was still out there he was probably an hour behind me. The showers were close but it still took me nearly an hour to get the job done. Washing my legs was the most difficult… Try standing on one leg in a shower after running 125k. Yeah, I sat on my butt.
I was in the stands watching the runners come in at 7:20. Where was Jeremy? Every minute that passed seemed to spell disaster. Then there he was coming down the street with about 20 minutes left on the clock. I was shouting and moving (ever so slowly) to intercept him at the finish line. I couldn’t believe it! He had rallied from what seemed like the end. It was a reawakening, a resurrection. He had come back from the dead and he looked it.
Jeremy demonstrated incredible tenacity. He raced the clock to nearly every cutoff. That performance will be one I’ll never forget.
It has taken me a couple days to get my feet back under me. I was unable to eat anything solid for about 24 hours. My stomach took a far worse beating than my legs. The leg pain I can handle. In fact, at about kilometre 70 I truly could not feel my legs anymore. Now that I can eat again my mind is drawn to whether I couldn’t get that time down under 20 hours. If you’ve read this far you have something of the endurance gene in you too – maybe I’ll see you out there next year! I just need to work out how to train my stomach.
Things got a little crazy at the end of packing, and the computer was wrapped in a box before I knew it. Here are some posts that I wrote before the move.
6 months ago this post would have been way easier to write. Now that we’re weeks away, I honestly can’t withhold my excitement. The more I try to think about what I haven’t missed, the more excited I get to go back blocking out all those negative thoughts.
#10 – Temperatures below 15C
The area we are from, this is the temperature the majority of the time. It’s cold. Sure after a winter of -30C anything above +10C is t-shirt weather, but come on.
#9 – Gas Prices
When I started driving in 1996 gas cost $.49/L. I would complain about dishing out $25 to fill up BOTH of the gas tanks in my pickup. Gas in the UAE currently costs $.50/L. It’s been like going back in time 20 years! Except instead of gradual, painful inflation over time, we get to have our organs torn from our body in rapid succession just so we can afford paying $1.72/L (or whatever ridiculous amount they are charging).
#8 – Taxes
It’s been a simple pleasure to go into a store, grab a few items, and know EXACTLY how much you would be forking over at the till. No guesses on what qualifies to be taxed and what doesn’t, and how much tax you will actually have to pay. I’m pretty sure Canada taxes you to breath their air.
#7 – Allergies
Over the first 10 years of my marriage my allergies were gradually getting worse. Before we left Canada in Sept. 2012 I was at the point where I had to take Benadryl daily from May to September just to function. My sinuses would clog, causing me to have headaches, and puffy eyes and itchy everything inside my face (nose, mouth, throat). While in the UAE, I still have mild allergy symptoms in the summer, but I don’t have to take Benadryl to get through the day.
#6 – Frizzy, Staticky Hair
My hair is almost as long as it was for my wedding day (mid-lower back), and I wear it down. Almost always (except lately with the humidity) I wear it down. In Canada, my hair would be so staticky, flying all over the place in my mouth and eyes that I would have it up in a braid, ponytail or hat constantly.
#5 – Wet Snow
I like snow. It’s pretty when everything looks white and clean. I also look forward to when the snow first starts to melt and you know summer is on it’s way. It’s the 6 inches of heavy, melting snow rivers I don’t miss. Especially on our street where they don’t clear the snow during the winter. They just let it build up, than drop some salt on it to get things melting. Thanks city of PG. I guess you know how much I hate dry socks.
#4 – Kids in Separate Schools
Here in the UAE, my 3 kids were all in the same school. Easy peasy! Heading back to Canada, we’re heading back to 3 different schools. One in a French track school, one in English track school, and one in high school. Let’s see how long we last without a car this winter shall we.
#3 – Paying for Amenities, and stuff
Like I mention in another post, we have access to everything we need here on AUS campus with in walking distance and free. Back home we’ll be able to walk to the grocery store, and walk to church…and really I guess it will only take me 30 minutes to walk to one gym, and an hour to walk to the other. Why am I talking about walking everywhere? Haven’t I mentioned we don’t insure our car 6 months out of the year to avoid the craziness of everything entailed with driving in the snow? On top of walking across town (or hoping I make the bus stop in time) we have to pay crazy amounts of money to have access to these facilities – yay. Let’s not forget all the bills we will have to start keeping track of again. It truly has been like a paid vacation here.
#2 – Prices
For the most part, big ticket items cost about the same here (even after currency conversation of $1 CA = 3.50 AED). There are items though, that are a quarter of the price than they are at home. For example, gas here is 1.72 AED/L in Canada it is currently $1.72/L.
#1 – Nursing School
When we left Canada I couldn’t talk about nursing school without breaking down into tears. I was that stressed out about it. My last semester of school (before we moved) I spontaneously broke into full body hives twice, and ended up in the hospital with a Morphine allergy after being treated for Kidney Stones. It’s only been in the last few months that I have been able to regain control of my emotions when talking about nursing school. I hope I can keep it together a few more years and complete the program. BTW congrats to the UNBC BCN grad class of 2014! Wish I could have been there with you guys!
I’ve been wanting to write this post for awhile about things I am beginning to miss about Canada. Now that we’re heading back, I’ve also been thinking about what I’ll also miss about the UAE. So there will be a theme to my next few posts.
My ultimate items are friends and family so I’m not going to include them on any of these lists. I just can’t rank how much I love those people! So here we go.
#10 – Slurpees
Who doesn’t want a huge glass of flavoured slushy ice on a hot day? Why hasn’t this become popular here?? I’ve definitely been craving slurpees since the day we left. Watch out Mr. G’s and 7-11, we’re coming for you.
#9 – Grocery shopping
Ever wondered what it would be like to go into a grocery store and find them out of stock of milk. Or cheese. Or ranch dressing. Or even that one kind of popular cereal you usually get. That’s what it’s like to shop here. It’s not even obscure speciality items, it’s hit and miss with the regular items you would expect to be in stock… always. I am looking forward to going to the grocery store and knowing I can get what I went in looking for. How easy was that to take for granted.
#8 – Polite drivers
Maybe I’ve been out of touch too long. I know there are still lots of crazy impatient people on the road, even in Canada. Generally though it has been my experience that when you put your blinker on in Canada to merge into a lane, folks either move over or slow to give you space. They DON’T typically speed up and swerve around you. Isn’t that a novel idea.
#7 – Falling snow
Not even at Ski Dubai can you experience falling snow. As a sci-fy geek and long time trekkie, driving through falling snow at night is the best experience (as long as I’m not the one doing the driving).
#6 – Left-hand turns
I completely understand why this isn’t possible in most areas here in the UAE. It’s the way people behave on the roads here. I’m certain car accident deaths due to left handed turns must have been substantial to make them nearly non-existent here now. Especially with all the issues we face with distracted drivers, I guarantee I feel more confident making a left turn in Canada than I do here.
#5 – Properly labeled and positioned road signs
Driving still feels like a fairly new thing for a lot of people here, including the local transit authority. They seem to be getting better though, or we’ve just gotten used to the way they post signage here. When we first moved here, I could not figure out where we were on a map to save my life. Lack of street names in English or altogether is part of the problem. The other issue with signage here is that sometimes there are just so many converging roadways in one spot that it’s difficult to get the signage placed in such a way that gives drivers enough time to determine which route will take them to their destination. This is frustrating in a country that forces you to drive 10 km’s out of your way to turn around if you make a mistake like that. So, good on you BC. At least you got that one figured out.
#4 – Screwing in my own lightbulb
It’s been handy having someone on call, at any time, to take care of whatever needed taking care of in our villa. I don’t mean like in Canada when you call the mechanic in a rental and they give you some lame time between 8am and 6pm 3 days from now. I send an email, or give a call and they are there in an hour, fixing my table, hanging my pictures, changing my lightbulbs. It’s amazing, I don’t know why I think I’m not going to miss this. At the same time, I like to exercise my independence while I’m still capable of doing that. I also think this mentality really feeds into the entitlement issues here. There are a lot of people here who could not function without service like this. They demand and expect this type of service. These people would not survive for very long outside of this bubble of the UAE.
#3 – Paddling a canoe
I’m sure I could have got myself over to the boat club and gone for a paddle up the beach on whatever I wanted to pay for, but it’s not the same. There’s a great atmosphere when you’re sitting on a lake, surrounded by woods, paddling a canoe. It’s peaceful, serene. Don’t think there are many places like that I could have found here.
#2 – Consignment Stores
Clothes are relatively cheap here, depending on what stores you’re shopping in. I couldn’t ever get into the groove of shopping in many of the stores here. The one consignment store I did manage to find was a factory filled with dumped goods. You really have to have vision to see the potential of items in this place. The clothing section, on an upper floor, was literally a pile of clothes that you climbed through. Value Village I missed your multitude of selection in brands, styles, genders. You are my one stop shop, where I don’t have to worry about how fast the kids will outgrow or ruin the clothes. Where I don’t get those feelings of buyer’s remorse. I can’t wait to replenshish my wardrobe.
#1 – Changing Seasons
Who knew living in a perpetual summer could be a bit of a downer. I found myself getting a bit teary eyed and homesick several months ago when I came across some beautiful scenic fall landscape photographs. Leaves fall all year round here, but the trees don’t change colours like they do back home. The trees here stay green, and the old leaves just turn brown and fall off. Raking leaves all year round really isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
Bonus – Light switches
The light switch in our bedroom drives me nuts. Maybe it’s just one of the many quirks of the poor layout of our villa, because it just doesn’t make sense. We have to open our door completely and walk into the room before turning on the light. Light switches for washrooms are typically located outside of the washroom here. So our toilet light switch is located on the wall, next to the door to our bedroom, right where I have instinctively, for 2 years, reached to turn on the light to our room. For the most part. Light switches at our house in BC are right where they should be. Yay for good planning!