|By Raven Eye Photopragphy|
RTNX 2007 was my first expedition race which was held up on the Queens Charlotte Islands. I was naive, inexperienced, but fell in love with this crazy sport. I met a ton of fun people and started racing all around the world.
4 years later I find myself back on the start line of RTNX 2011, I am older, more experienced, on a strong team, and have high hopes for a killer course, great organization, and a strong finish.
In a 6 day expedition style adventure race each member of the team will experience the extremes of highs and lows, physically and emotionally. This particular race sent us through an amazingly beautiful course but at the same type a brutally tough one. Most of the time the beauty and the level of difficulty tends to blend together. As the deeper into the bush, the higher into the alpine, and the farther away from civilization you go by means of human powered methods the tougher the terrain, the higher the consequence but the more prestine the environment and picturesque the scenery.
I felt a little nervous before the race as it had been a couple years since my last expedition. I raced with Yogaslackers back in 2008 but since then the team Gearjunkie/yogaslackers has been killing it in a good way. They race lots and come out on top most of the time... I am competitive and at this point would feel frustrated to be on a team that was not in contention of winning so I put the pressure on myself-to be fast. The other unique thing about our team for this race was that unlike most teams who race with 1 female and 3 males... we had 2 females and 2 males. Luckily, Chelsey and I are strong and got on very well and our team was tight and worked well together. We were fit and we moved fast together.
The race began with a 5000 foot climb up on bikes. We had a slight navigational mishap that put us in 2nd to last place right off the bat... it was catching up time for us. We passed a ton of teams on the climb,.... this is when I knew we were a physically strong team. It was off onto our first big trek after the bike. We took the river route, which involved lots of bushwacking, river crossings (on logs, i'm glad for my slacklining skills) and devils club. I had never seen so much devils club and was thankful for wearing long sleeves and long pants and gloves. Albeit all the clothes they still managed to poke through but I cant event imagine what the bodies of those wearing shorts looked like.. OUCH. We eventually caught custom cellular and Nuun and finished the trek off with them through the night. We decided to run into the transition that put us into 2nd place. We were all super energized to have trekked into 2nd position so we decided to keep moving and got on our bikes right away. We managed to even see the 1st place team for about a second...
We made another nav error that cost us some valuable time and energy but still managed to keep a hold of 3rd place heading into the 1st paddle. A big portion of the bike legs seemed to encompass a large amount of climbing... lucky for us we were all quite good at this but it was still tough, especially mentally. The descent off of Idaho Peak was this kind of sketchy single track with tons of blow downs.. Once it gets cleaned up definitely a fun ride. I managed to hit a branch with my handbars on the double trac and went flying off my bike.. luckily only my confidence was a little bruised:)
Into our first paddle. I was feeling good and Jason and I paddled well together. Infact, as it happens a lot in adventure racing we happen to be feeling much better than our other canoe and so we towed them for the last bit of the paddle in order to keep our pace and stay together.
Off the paddle we were still in 3rd place and on our way to our big trek through Valhalla Park. The rain had been falling on and off but this time it was coming down for awhile. We got to follow a trail up to Beatrice Lake but as night fall hit and the rain was not slowing down, we started to get very cold. We needed rest. Daniel managed to find an old outhouse and this is where we tuckered down for the night. I was so opposed to this at first but with its dryness and not smelling factor I complied and tried to get some shut eye in the shithouse...
After a couple of hours we were off again still raining and still dark, it took us awhile to actually find the trail again which was a little frustrating but eventually we managed to get to Beatrice Lake. Here, we all wished for the packrafts sitting in a bin and not with us. The 5km bushwack around Beatrice Lake took amazingly long, it was slow, with tons of alder, cliffs, devils club and debris. We managed to finally reach the waterfall, hike past the lakes and make it to the next big obstacle, snow, and a 1000 foot waterfall. Here, I was tested with my fear of side stepping on snow with consequence of falling. All I could think about was that if I fell I would slide down the snow and into this freezing lake... It was tough for me, thank you to my teammates for helping me through that one. Once we reached the greenery beside the waterfall I felt much better being able to grip the alder and not see the drops below me.
Here, the sceneray was just spectacular, huge peaks covered with snow, and alpine lakes everywhere. We trekked through snow, on boulders.. as long as there was no steep side hilling with cliffs I could see I was a happy camper:)
We got into Ice Creek Lodge at dusk along with team Momar and Tecnu (the teams that we would be flopping places with back and forth until the end). Ice Creek lodge is a super funky little backcounry lodge equipped with all necessities and of course a sauna. Unfortunately, we were in the heat of racing and there was no time for a sauna for us, just some soup and coffee and off we went for more grueling mountaineering in running shoes and tights (I kind of love it..) Before we left we learned of a change in the course. A happy change where we would get to ride our bikes 20 km down a logging road instead of hike the 20km. Even more motivation to get it done quickly but safely!
We had two mountain passes to get through. They were snowy and they were steep. We got through the first one just as dark was upon us. The second pass was a little more difficult to find and once we finally reached it and got over it we got a little stuck on the way down with teammates getting tired and the darkness making finding a way down a little more difficult. We snuggled up and tried to catch some shut eye on the top of the mountain. It was cold and in retrospect probably not the best decision. We woke up to frozen snow. Arg, making glisading down a little more dangerous and for me a lot more terrifying. We made it through though and found the trail that was to take us out to our bikes. After a 36 hour trek that last thing you want is to arrive to a transition to find out it was moved back down a 20km logging road and that instead of bikes you had to use your legs and walk. We were tired, out of food, and really wanted our bikes. At least we had something to talk about on our 20km running/hobble to check point 10. We gathered ourselves together, without water (they didn't have any there) and headed off onto our bike leg.
This leg had a cool little zipline on it where you zipped across with your bike. We then got steered the wrong way once again and managed an extra 10 or so km the wrong way... back on track we headed up some logging roads that eventually let to a really cool atv track up a mtn pass and then secretly hidden among the bushes was this amazing doubletrack crazy trail. We ended up seeing team Momar behind us which probably gave us some extra umph in our peddle stroke but we flew across this trail and down the other logging road getting to the start of the long paddle just as dark set upon us.
We tried to think of a creative way to pack the bikes and paddle... soemthing like three people in a canoe towing one other with all the bikes. It was dark, we were loopy and it didn't really work. We dismantled the creativity on the water in the dark and what entailed was daniel and I paddling a canoe backwards with four bikes. It didn't last long, along with J and C seeing things.. so we found a spot to hitch a tent and went to sleep. No problems, except we overslept,... and when we awoke it was light and many teams passed us throughout the night. OOPS.
We just had to keep paddling. Jason found Daniels ipod and speakers so were blasting some tunes to keep ourselves motivated. We finally reached Renata, enjoyed some 'real' food and made our way up another high pass. For some reason after this paddle I had it my head that things would get easier... I was wrong, this was one tough hike a bike, it was long, it was hot, it was steep.... We finally made it up and the thing that kept us going was excitement for biking through the tunnel. It was cool, as in cold and amazing. We got out the other end to find out we were to be the last to get through the checkpoint(barely made it as they changed the cut off time). We cycled down to the trek.
We were only an hour behind tecnu and momar sitting in 6th place. Here is where things started to break down a little. They didnt bring us one of our bags (it had warm clothes and half the food). Volunteers were amazing as they scrounged their own food barrels to provide us what they could. We set off on the trek but there was some confusion and although we clearly said goodbye to the volunteers on foot some people at the headquarters thought we scratched. So, after a very tough trek, we were looking for a road junction amongst many road junctions for the checkpoint but there was noone to be found, Noone at the checkpoint, hours wasted, our mojo was getting low. We finally made it to the last transition, again our bag was missing, and thankfully the volunteers here made our day and raised our spirits. They once again shared their food and their enthusiasm with us and we were on our way on our bikes with full bellies and happy thoughts.
We were biking and were oblivious to how difficult it would be to get to the base of seven summit trail. Nothing was marked, there were no trails on the map but we were to follow the trail signs. We got lucky on the first part and Dan let us to the pass. Another team was not so lucky and had to turn back after 2 hours. I got really sick here, as did Jason, we wre freezing cold in the warm sunshine but we kept on biking just more slowly than usual. Eventually we got to the strawberry pass looking for a sweet single track down and couldnt find it anywhere. We had to bushwack again with our bikes. When we finally reached the base of seven summits it was dark and we were tired. We started the climb but about 2km in we realized that we were freezing, tired, and seeing things. We took a rest, woke up even colder and our minds still tired. We decided to buckle down for a couple of hours while we were still low down as we didn't have all of our gear (in the missing bag) we didnt feel it safe if we had to stop up top. SO we got out our space blankets, spooned and tried to get some shut eye. I however decided to have some sleep freak outs. Apparently I kept waking up yelling, thinking we were in danger and on a cliff. Its funny to hear about it after the fact but I think my teammates were not so impressed with my sleep talking skills.
In the morning we managed to get up at sunrise and ride the seven summits but again got mislead and rode an extra 4km or so UP..as we missed the junction that had no sign.... we eventually met up with another team and found the correct exit and made our way to checkpoint 22 the last one before the finish. We were so excited to have completed the whole course (minus the little mt glory hike) when everything just came to an abrupt stop at checpoint 22. The headquarters truck was there and Chris, was not very nice to us and essentially told us our race was done. There would be no support for us if we rode to Trail, there was no congratulations, no positive talk at all. Just really rude comments. We were all in shock I think. All we wanted was to cross that finish line and have someone say congrats to us for all of our hardwork the past 6 days. I am still pretty dissapointed with how that ended, it could have been so different. Chris, next time just think about the racers and what they accomplished and a simple smile would have even salvaged the disapointment we felt.
so who knows what the actual results are but who cares really. I had a blast racing with the yogaslackers... Chelsey and I rocked in a team of two girls and two guys. We raced hard, and we worked well together. We will share many vibrant memories that will last a lifetime.
live, love, laugh,...DREAM!