Hap and Andrea just completed the epic challenge of the Muskoka River X. It’s a race like no other. It turned out to be 130 KM, 20 portages, 4 lakes and 2 river systems, completely self-supported, all to be paddled in a mere 24 hours.
After just one training session, Hap and Andrea (Team Ecotrailbuilders #206) took on the challenge, and not only finished but also came in 5th out of 13 co-ed entries, and placed 20th overall out of 51 teams. Oh yes, and they took home the prize for carrying the most and the heaviest gear! The following email interview about their experience in the Muskoka River X race gives the point of view of both teammates, individually.
Note: Normally, the title phrase would be written as “He Said, She Said” but Hap, who is ever the gentleman (especially when it pertains to his beautiful wife) believes in the old ideology of women first and not necessarily because he likes to have the last word.
She Said, He Said – Muskoka River X
What was your motivation for taking in the Muskoka River X?
Andrea said: Our motivation for taking part in the Muskoka River X was to support the local paddling community and to give ourselves a personal challenge. Hap and I have paddled in the North Bay to Mattawa Race together…but that was 23 years ago! We do a lot of expedition paddling, so we thought this adventure, which included paddling lakes, rapids, rivers, portaging and night paddling, was “right up our alley.”
Hap said: I compiled a guidebook for Muskokan wild places that included the Muskoka Rivers. That was thirteen years ago and I felt that the local bureaucrats have lost the initiative to maintain or promote canoeing the way it should be, and to support the canoeing culture in Muskoka. The race was a good concept and I felt that I should support it. Secondly; I wanted to challenge myself and I felt that the two of us could do this even though we didn’t train for it. I ran the North Bay to Mattawa race for 10 years straight; a 65 km. race and my best time in a beat-up cedar canvas was 7.5 hrs. Andrea and I did the race in about 8 hrs. That was half the distance of the Muskoka River X…we should have been able to do the race in 16 hours had we trained but we just wanted to finish within the 24 hr. mark.
What was the hardest part of the challenge for you?
Andrea said: The hardest part of the challenge for me was staying awake during the last 15 km. We’d set a relatively relaxed but steady pace, with many coffee breaks at portages up until the end of Mary Lake. However, after 115km, we both started to fall asleep while we were paddling! It was a scary feeling, like nodding off while driving a car. There were a couple of times we each nearly rolled out of the canoe!
We were also suffering from injuries. I’d crashed off my mountain bike a couple weeks before the race and bruised my ribs, which were still feeling quite tender but that was mild compared to the osteo-arthritis pain that Hap was suffering through in his feet and shoulders (a by-product of many years of paddling and portaging).
Hap said: The hardest part of the challenge was dealing with the pain in my feet with no cartilage left between my big toes, and the osteoarthritis in my shoulders – I didn’t want to let my partner down so there was a lot of teeth gritting on the portages.
Andrea at start point 6:30am 0 degrees Celcius.
What was your favourite part about the event?
Andrea said: My favourite part about the event was the support we got along the way from family, friends and people along the river. It was energizing to be cheered on by folks at their campfires along the river at 2:00 am! Also, the route itself…it was so beautiful…and to be paddling along under shooting stars on a clear September night, well…it just doesn’t get any better than that!
Hap said: My favourite part was being in the canoe for 24 hours straight with my sweetheart, paddling under the moon, smootching at each portage.
How did you manage paddling and portaging at night?
Andrea said: As previously mentioned, Hap and I have had the good fortune of paddling on many expedition canoe trips over the years. There are often times when the only way to travel across a large body of water is at night(when the wind is down), so night paddling is part of our repertoire. We also find ourselves paddling 30km up the Lady Evelyn River at night to return to our vehicle after spending time at our cabin in Temagami because we find it too hard to leave our beautiful piece of paradise on a sunny day :-); however, we are often beyond the portages before nightfall and have a good sense of where the deeper channels are in that particular river. Portaging unfamiliar trails on a dark and foggy night certainly added to the adventure of the race. Hap and I are a good team, so we have our portaging down to a relatively efficient system (despite carrying WAY TOO MUCH gear!)…but the headlamps came in handy, as well as cautious steps around roots and rocks. We were told that at check-point 3, we were the only team to still have dry feet!
Hap said: Night paddling for us is secondary; we do a lot of this with our guiding work. What was hard was the fog and trying to locate the deep upriver channels when we hit the swifts.
What advice would you have for someone wishing to take on the Muskoka River X next year (or an event like it)?
Andrea said: My advice? Look at it as a personal challenge and come prepared for all weather conditions. There are some awesome paddlers out there whose skills are speed and endurance – it might be difficult for the average paddler to compete for a podium finish. However, there are many canoe trippers who would enjoy the challenge of the Muskoka River X and not should shy away from it. We had great weather this year, so we were lucky. The sun and the wind as well as the fog on the river at night offered up a certain amount of challenge but rain or sleet, the latter being possible this time of year, could have been devastating for anyone not properly equipped to deal with these elements. We won a prize for “carrying the most and heaviest gear” in the race, which was fun and rather funny, but had the weather turned, there may have been some very uncomfortable paddlers out on that course and possible cases of hypothermia due to minimalist packing. This being said, however, I think next year, Hap and I will try to cut down the weight we carry…maybe pack one less thermos of coffee ;-).
Hap said: There are paddlers and there are racers; Andrea and I are paddlers and we knew we couldn’t compete against a race mentality…we have to stop and just look around, enjoy the serenity of the river. You can’t enter an event like this and think you can compete against the pro’s without marathon training and light gear. We went heavy but glad we did as conditions could have become much worse and we were totally prepared. That slowed us down considerably but we got the opportunity to see a special place in Muskoka. It’s a great race but paddlers should only enter it to challenge themselves, perhaps as we did, and not look at “losing” as a stigma to not go in it again next year. Andrea and I will enter again, certainly train more for it and challenge our time again. It’s important to support events like this as we have the perfect environment, and cultural heritage, to play in and appreciate.
Any other thoughts, comments?
Andrea said: I found the race to be remarkably well-run and organized. It was a pleasure to be a part of the inaugral Muskoka River X.
Hap said: I appreciate all the fanfare and accolades, about the race and my work, but I also want people to remember that Andrea deserves as much credit as I do; we work as a team, a devoted partnership braced on respect for each other and for our friends. She certainly deserves the same notoriety and kudos, more perhaps, because she does it solely out of love.
This photo was taken at the halfway point at Bracebridge Falls gorge (dinner and break…yes, way too much gear!).
To learn more about Muskoka River X, visit their website: www.muskokariverx.com or find them on Facebook and Twitter.