Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Laurentian Rogaine = fun!

Last weekend we were signed up for a 24-hour orienteering event called the Laurentian Rogaine, just a bit to the north of Montreal.  We almost didn't make it to the start, for various reasons including:

- A question about John's ankle (the answer turned out to be - it was fine by race weekend, yay!)
- Almost forgetting our passport cards (I remembered just as we got on the highway, phew!)
- Getting "dangerously low on gas" (John's words) in the middle of the Adirondacks in the middle of a dark Saturday morning (thank you to the Stewarts in Elizabethtown!)

Luckily I had budgeted just enough extra time into our trip to account for the detours along the way, so we made it in time for the pre-race briefing and map handout.  Not my finest hour of pre-race planning but good for a little excitement.

Summary of the event:

We had a fabulous time!  It was a super fun course, tons of variety, through towns and woods and ski areas, on and off road, navigating an immense network of cross-country ski trails, around lakes, up and down small mountains, to a diverse set of control locations.

We felt simply "lucky to be there" and we were doing the event strictly for practice, so we took our time and enjoyed ourselves.  This turned out to be excellent training and way more fun that trying to push hard for many hours.

As a result of driving up early Saturday morning, we agreed that it would be best to sleep in the car for a couple hours in the middle of the night (something we never do if we're trying to be competitive).  This turned out to be a wonderful way to refresh our brains and bodies and feet, and the second half went very well for us.  We were even able to push the pace in the last several hours, somewhat out of necessity, and we were able to do it without killing ourselves.

Oh, and the weather was spectacular.  Not too hot during the day, mostly dry except a bit of spitting rain for brief moments, a cooling wind, almost no bugs, not too cold at night, overall the most pleasant race weather we have had in quite a while.

More of a race report:

I won't go into all the details of each control this time.  Just a few highlights along the way.

The first downhill through the woods went well, not too much vegetation in the way, and definitely nothing too sharp or scratchy.  There were denser places on the course but for the most part we could move pretty well cross-country and we liked these woods.

We did a couple controls through town, which is always fun for us.  One was located behind the fire station.  We went around someone's beautiful backyard.  Tons of trails around town for people to run and bike and ski and snowshoe.  Looks like a lot of people here get outdoors in all seasons!

Into the maze of XC (cross-country) ski trails - lots of signs at intersections and an occasional map posted to a tree (gotta love those!).  Our first 70-pointer (the controls were worth between 30 and 70 points each).

We really enjoyed the trail running through the woods.  Took it easy, tried to imagine some of these on XC skis (hmm... some places would be rather difficult... glad we're on foot.  And that there's no snow).

The traverse from control #41 to 61 was the most challenging of the race for us.  We took a bearing and went 500 meters west through swamp, over downed trees, up and down steep little hills, and moved the best we could in a "straight" line.  John did great finding ways through, and we caught up to several other teams in the area.  Amazingly, John found a gentle drainage right before a steep uphill, and #61 was on top on the other side, exactly at 500 meters from where we started.  We were pretty excited not to spend any extra time tromping around through that part of the woods!

A long climb up to #52 and then we spent some time around the top of a small ski area, including one control at the top of a lift.  Nice views and interesting nav.  Down the other side, over to an abandoned subdivision where there were streets all laid out but no houses built.  I got stung by something near a marsh, that was the only annoying part.  It got me through my O-pants and the back of my gaiter!  Nasty bugger, maybe a yellow-jacket.

Off on a long road walk/run up a long hill.  This was a busy road so not so enjoyable.  After climbing up a hill in the woods (and dreaming of cookies for some reason?) to #72, we went down the other side to a long dirt road.  It was a quiet road, much better.

Another long walk/run, through a park where a group of folks were having a party and roasting... something.  Maybe pigs?  A guy who might have been drunk invited us to come join them.  Thanks but we should be going!

Back to the XC ski trails, we climbed up to an incredible view of the valley and lake to the north.  We sat for a moment on a rock slab to take it in.  Thank you Francis (the race director) for this beautiful view!!

Trails, little ponds, fun trail and off-trail nav combination for several points.  We crossed a bridge over a marsh, and just as I was thinking how much I enjoyed having a bridge instead of getting our legs wet, I got stung again.  This time once on my neck and once on the other calf.  I heard buzzing around me, yelled and took off running, and John was able to follow without getting hit.  Geez!

We got our focus back in time to work on #64.  It was on the strangest hillside.  The hill sloped steeply down, but there were reentrants going across it (not down it like normal).  It was like the ground had folds in it.  We started along one reentrant but didn't find the control (it was supposed to be on a knoll).  Studying the contours on the map, I suggested we might be too low?

So we climbed up through a small cliff, with John finding an excellent break through the rocks.  Over the other side, after a short flat section, was another horizontal reentrant.  Wow, too strange.  We noticed something white on the rise across the way and found #64 there.  Sweet!  That could have gone much worse.

A couple small hilltop controls later, and we were back on a road and heading toward the start/finish.  One more control along the way, and I guess I got complacent.  First we missed our turn (sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between a road and a driveway on the map and in real life unless we were paying attention).  Then I misread a creek as the trail and we jumped off in the wrong direction.  Pretty embarrassing.  More so that we somehow missed the trail when we came back across it and found the creek.

Back to my original strategy, now from the actual creek (which is definitely not a trail).  That worked, we finally bagged #32 and we could continue on.  It was getting dark, that's my excuse...

We were having a grand time running down the trail when it reached a marsh crossing.  This time without a bridge.  Urg, we were so enjoying having dry feet.  Neither one of us was keen on changing that now.  Yep, we went way around to keep our feet dry.  Yes, I am admitting it at the risk of having our adventure racing cards revoked, per my previous post...

Back at the TA we went to the hash house and for once decided to stay for supper.  The soup and penne and bread and cookies were delicious!  Merci Celine!  Then we got in the car and took a long nap.  Very nice.

The course layout was interesting in that over half the controls were in the western third of the map, which we cleared (except one outlier) in our first loop.  The eastern controls were much more spread out but with overall higher point values.  We set out around 1:30 am with a plan to cover the northeast portion and then reassess.

The first 2 controls were easy (road and trails), then we had a long cross-country trek to find a small hilltop.  John produced another solid "follow the bearing" lead through the woods and we nailed it dead-on.  Nighttime nav celebration  :)

Fun trails down the hill, and we started seeing hoof prints.  At the bottom of the trail we were therefore not surprised to find a couple horses in a corral.  They, however, were surprised to see us.  Sorry, didn't mean to scare you!

More hoof-printy trails over to a large stone pyramid monument next to a road, another interesting checkpoint.

There were a couple options for getting to #56, none very direct (without crossing a swamp or a creek).  We opted to test a swamp crossing where there was a trail going down to it on either side.  We got to the "swamp" part and debated but decided to try.  It was mostly just a bunch of tall grass with some wet spots here and there, and John kept both of his feet dry.  I had a stick break under my left foot, resulting in a mud-covered shoe.  But only one, at least.

In retrospect, if we had been in a hurry it would have been faster to go around on trails.  But now I have something slightly interesting to write about instead.

Basic trails from there over to the next control under a lovely footbridge over a loud, rushing creek.  I enjoyed following the creek down to the next town, then we moseyed through the dark streets up and back to a control on the next hill.  We had brought money but nothing was open.

Next up - another downhill ski area, this time in the dark.  We went up trails and ski slopes, which are not always the easiest things to understand on the map.  At an intersection of ski runs we stopped to debate.  We were looking for a "giant sign board" so we checked all the signs around but didn't see anything.  I said we should check the area around the corner just below us.

John spotted the control and as I made my way across the tall grass I heard him say something like "well, then."  Rounding the corner and looking up, I was astonished to see the LARGEST sign I have ever seen on the side of ski hill.  It was the name of the ski area in letters so large you could probably read it a few kilometers away (like from the nearby highway).  Another team reported that they could see it from the town down below when they were there during the day.

This made us laugh for a few minutes and was definitely one of the highlights of this adventure!  It would have been embarrassing not to find that one.

It was windy and a little chilly going over the top of the mountain and up and back to the next point.  Daylight broke as we ran down to the end of our planned "northeast section" at control #78.  Soon we were warming up again.

We thought we had time for a couple more points to the east.  John lobbied for #77 across the highway also, but I nixed it based on the remaining time on the clock (we had to be back by 10 a.m.).

We took an alternate (unplanned) route to #69 but at least it was a parallel path and didn't cost us too much time.  A bigger issue is that we forgot to get water at the previous control so we weren't sure how that would work out for us.

On the plus side, John found a tennis ball on the way, in the middle of nowhere.  Even better, we ran up on two raccoons who were even more surprised to see us than the horses had been.  One disappeared immediately but the other tried running up a tree... that leaned over the trail.  He decided that was a bad idea and tried another tree, then finally gave up on the trees and left in the underbrush.  Awesome.

The powerline trails to #57 were fun and mostly downhill.  Which is good because I was starting to fret about how far away we were from the finish, with time going by fairly quickly now.

I started pushing the pace.  John had just enough water to make one more Spiz, which was good because I needed to get in a few calories before I started to get "snippy".  Our legs responded as we climbed steadily up to a tower (or actually, the remaining legs of a previous tower) at #67.

Then some fun nav around a golf course to another tower.  John found a golf ball along the way.  I asked him if he would mind trying to find a way down some possible cliffs for the most direct route to #58 and he was enthusiastically in favor.  Then he found an unmapped trail down, and I think that might have been slightly disappointing.  For him, at least.

Another beautiful run on trails to #58 where we remembered to get water from the hose there.  No water issues, yay!  Now we just have to get back... at least we were moving well and the route was all on roads and trails from here.

We debated between 2 40-pointers vs. 1 50-pointer (or maybe all 3) but I decided I didn't want to stress with a big climb up to #49.  So we veered right to #50 instead.  Then we were making such good time that I suggested we could do an out-and-back to #40, so we did.  Based on the timing it was probably a really good decision not to try for the big hill.

Just a few roads and one climb back to the finish.  John found an orange along the way - ??  It was pretty tasty... and somewhere surreal.

We briefly walked with Tom and Pavel, and Tom told us a couple stories about their adventures in the southeast corner.  It would have been fun to try that section, but at least we missed only 7 controls overall so we didn't feel too badly about all that.

And we got 4th overall and top co-ed team, so we actually felt pretty good about it!  We finished off the weekend with more naps, a nice stay at a hotel in Saint-Saveur, a delicious supper of raclette and crepes, and an easy drive back on Monday morning.

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