Hap & Andrea take 2nd: MRX – Coureur des Bois

Hap & Andrea place second in their category (C-2 co-ed) for the 220km Coureur des Bois – Muskoka River X Classic adventure marathon canoe race!

Hap and Andrea have taken on the MRX every year since its inception. Their first year they finished, winning the award for heaviest carry, with the second year seeing them having to pull out due to injury. This year, when the River X crew announced an expansion course to the Muskoka River X Classic with the Coureur des Bois, Hap and Andrea signed up immediately for the epic challenge.

“Building on the heritage of the canal expeditions of the 1800’s, the Coureur des Bois Teams will travel along the expedition routes of these early explorers as they traverse Algonquin Park east to west from Whitney to Oxtongue Lake. After an overnight layover at Oxtonque and using only the supplies that are carried with them, teams will then merge with the MRX Classic on Lake of Bays on day two. Paddling the full north-south length of Lake of Bays the Coureur des Bois’ will complete stages 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the MRX Classic before returning to Huntsville.” ~MRX Website

A totally self supported race, the teams had to paddle 220km in under 48 hours or less to complete the Coureur des Bois and MRX Classic. An amazing feat to be sure! So a hearty congratulations and paddles up to Hap and Andrea, as Team EcoTrailbuilders, for finishing with an impressive 2nd place win in the C-2 co-ed category for the Courier des Bois, as well as to all the paddling adventurers who took on this incredible marathon challenge! Read Hap’s full account of their gruelling race experience below:

Each year we ask ourselves…why are we doing this? I don’t really have an answer for that; after all – we are trippers – not racers, even though we like to challenge ourselves every so often. But why would anyone want to canoe race over 220km. through beautiful backcountry wilderness in 36 hours when it usually takes two weeks time to REALLY enjoy the experience! And it’s a tough route: Andrea and I had never paddled the park south of Hwy. 60… one of the reasons we signed up for the race. And because our fall schedule is so tight, we had only a couple days open to experience it, sure, as we sped by at 10kph (that is, when we weren’t stopped to boil up a pot of tea). The race route chosen was perfect and hats off to Mike and Rob for putting all this together – not to mention Rich Swift and Algonquin Outfitters as key sponsor. We felt pretty strong this year after a heavy expedition and ecolodge schedule but – let me tell you – we are both hurting now! Lifting this mornings’ coffee cup was about all we could handle.

Photo Credit: Muskoka River X (via Facebook page)

Hap and Andrea during the pre-race check • Photo Credit: Muskoka River X (via Facebook page)

The route through the park was a mix of pretty lakes (starting at Whitney), Rock, Pog and Lake of Two Rivers, then entered a labyrinth of creeks that got several teams mixed up trying to find the right channel along the Madawaska. A meandering creek at this point, taxing everyone’s energy…throw in a few good portages (over 4,000m. in all first day) and by the time we reached Tea Lake (around 4pm…one hour before they close off the race) we were feeling the gnaw of fatigue. The termination time of 5pm. was tight but race officials didn’t want paddlers running the Oxtongue too late into the night. As it were…we still hit dark at Twin Falls and Ragged Chutes, having to navigate several rather gnarly C1’s by headlamp (apologies to Bill Swift who loaned us the Swift Winisk for the race…yes, we put a few scratches on the bottom). We finished up around eight or nine, 14 hours total time which we were pretty pleased with, set up camp at AO and managed a pretty good sleep.

RACE DAY TWO: Wake up call came too early – five-o’clock and we packed up feeling okay, except that I had forgotten to pack the coffee! Andrea and I can’t function without the caffeine in our blood so we were both off the morning of the second day.

Mornings are generally hard enough, for me, anyway, and I know Andrea was hurting after Day One. It took the whole of Lake of Bays, navigating big rollers coming down the lake, to start feeling better, sort of…but after a hard tripping year and trailbuilding season, we have a lot of resident injuries and joint pain to contend with. After Baysville things got a bit better and we started to get into a rhythm.

Hap & Andrea (Team #9 EcoTrailbuilders) near the head of the pack during MRX Classic portion of the race.

Hap & Andrea (Team #9 EcoTrailbuilders) near the head of the pack during MRX Classic portion of the race.

By this time, the other racers doing just the RiverX (who started at Huntsville – we started at Dwight Beach), started to mix and the river was a little congested at the rapids, people piling up at portages. Andrea and I started taking longer breaks, boiling up tea, lunch break under the pines, while other racers sped by (we would catch up and pass later…it took us longer on the portages because we had heavier, 2-days gear load but we could make up time paddling once the ibuprofen and honeyed tea kicked in). Thanks to the Muculloch family for their support too – it was certainly a lift to see them as we approached Bracebridge, and to Andrea’s mom for cheering us on at Baysville.

We kept up a good pace through Bracebridge and pell-melled it through up the North Muskoka to High Falls just as dark set in – two portages that can be a bit confusing to do by headlamp. Had a 45 minute dinner, hot drink before setting off upstream in the dark. No fog this year but we could feel the cold of the night creep in slowly. The riffles and current were, again, a tough negotiation and we walked up one in our barefeet so we could keep our shoes dry. Made it to the checkpoint at Port Sydney and sat in the heated shelter and made more tea. The warm tent initiated a desire to sleep. We figured we had spent over 2-hours during our race time just making tea and meals along the way, but it also helped us mentally to deal with the hardships. Mary Lake was difficult, windy, intimidating as waves constantly edged the gunnels wanting to flip the canoe, taking an inordinately long time to reach the north end. Last portage and the notion that we would make the distance in relatively good time – a couple hours better than two years ago, and a total of 36 hours for the entire 220km.

MRX CdB 2015 - Hap & Andrea's Live Map

Andrea and Hap’s route as marked out by the AO MRX CdB Live Map

But the best thing about this race can be attributed to two things: first of all – the beautiful wilderness Muskoka and Algonquin Park own, sometimes taken for granted; secondly; the people you meet along the way…other like-minded folk (maybe a bit crazy too) who love the challenge, stop to help you out in difficult situations, and to Mike, Rob, Rich and all the sponsors and volunteers who work hard to provide the experience for all to enjoy. Next year? Andrea and I will let you know after the aches and pain subside.

She Said, He Said – Muskoka River X 2014

Muskoka River X 2013 - 5 Minutes After Start

Muskoka River X 2013 – 5 Minutes After Start

Last year, Hap and Andrea took part in first ever Muskoka River X with a finish time of 23:46:00.1, and this year the results for this world class expedition race showed exactly how challenging this marathon can be… Even more so than last year! Racers must complete a 130 KM route with 20 portages and all in less than 24 hours. Plus they are do do it completely self-supported. However, this year the gruelling adventure took place during some unseasonably cold and wet Ontario weather and, out of the 64 teams that started, only 44 arrived at the finish. Here is Hap and Andrea’s Muskoka River X 2014 report, starting with (the Queen of the Dreaded Portage) Andrea Wilson… 

She Said:

I heard the rain coming down hard on our steel roof when the alarm went off at 5:00am. I groaned and rolled over, dreading the next 24hrs. Hap, already up, brought me in a coffee (as he does every morning – I know, I’m a lucky lady!) and announced that we’d be leaving for the race in half an hour. No time to doddle but enough time to shove a third pair of wool socks and fleece zip-tee into our dry bag.

The rain had let up by the time we reached the start line and the Huntsville docks were full of eager paddlers and their friends and family. Thankfully, this year Hap didn’t hang back at the start and take photos while I froze in the bow seat. When the air horn went off, we slowly followed the masses under the bridge and then set into a strong and steady stroke. The morning was overcast…maybe it wouldn’t rain like it was forecasted after all???

No such luck. While paddling on Lake of Bays and admiring the many beautiful cottages along the way, the rain began again and remained on and off for the better part of the day. The wind picked up, creating swells on the big lake, which precipitated more steering and bracing the canoe than paddling forward. By the time we hit checkpoint one in Baysville we were absolutely drenched. As soon as I stopped paddling, I started to shake so I immediately changed into a dry shirt and second rain-jacket. Being used to paddling in all kinds of weather our spirits were still high, regardless; but, the looks on many of the other paddlers’ faces were grave.

Screen shot of the MRX 2014 Livemap - Team EcoTrailbuilders

Screen shot of the MRX 2014 Livemap – Team EcoTrailbuilders

The ride down the south branch of the Muskoka River was a blast – high water and lots of current; we were in our element! Not long onto the river, however, I felt a twinge in my left wrist but tried to ignore it. I’d slipped on some wet rocks while carrying lumber over a portage to our cabin in Temagami this summer. At the time, my wrist had bruised up within an hour. However, like the trooper I think I am, I decided to ignore it…chalking it up to building more “character.” The wrist hadn’t bothered me since the week I’d injured it…until now. Much of the way from Baysville to Bracebridge, I found myself gritting my teeth as we changed paddle sides…which is about every 10 strokes with a bent shaft paddle! So I knew by the time we hit the Mathiasville Dam that I was aggravating a relatively important joint in my body. If I pushed myself, I was afraid that I might cause permanent damage.

We paddled a little further before I got up enough courage to tell Hap that I thought maybe it best if we didn’t proceed past Bracebridge. Much to my (egotistical) relief, he too was feeling pain in the opposite wrist to mine. We agonized over pulling out of the race in Bracebridge – we’d never quit anything before…it’s not in our characters.

I think scratching from the race in Bracebridge was one of the most difficult decisions we’ve had to make. We were 2 hours ahead of our last year’s time and we were feeling strong, well fed and hydrated…and, of course, had another dry set of clothes for our evening paddle. We could have finished the race and reached our goal of knocking off a few hours from last year…but we were both in pain. I like to think it was wisdom that kicked in (and not the lure of a hot bath and a shot of scotch at home 😉 ) that made us pull out of the race. The remaining 45km out of a total of 130km would have to be traveled by us next year.

I think the Muskoka River X Challenge is a terrific adventure – rain or shine. Many thanks to Mike and Rob and their team of volunteers – they put on a top-notch event, which we always enjoy being a part of.

~Andrea Wilson

And we will end with Hap’s report…

He Said:

Having done the race last year we knew well what to expect this time. It was cold (but not freezing!) and strong winds would course broadside the long length of Lake of Bays. I had misgivings about entering this year because of joint injuries and an arthritic shoulder (not to mention I had just contracted our son’s sinus cold!). Not that I’m whining about it, we still have a very busy fall and direly need our faculties intact. I could put up with the pain, to a point; after all, having guided expeditions for over three decades part of the guide mantra is to be stoic in the face of adversity, right, like fending off polar bear visits, running Rocky Defile on the Coppermine and personal injuries or discomforts…fear or pain not to be worn on your sleeve in front of clients (in this case my wife…who had to also deal with her own injuries). That being said, we dove into this insane race with bated optimism and some angst, tagged on to a liberal dose of ego (we don’t quit anything, or so we thought).

Hap at the start of Muskoka River X 2014, captured by Andrea.

Hap at the start of Muskoka River X 2014, captured by Andrea.


It is, nonetheless, what one would consider a ‘compact’ adventure, or a weeks’ canoe trip rolled in to one 24-hour blitz as one friend had remarked to us. Rob and Mike are top-notch organizers who do not leave out any details, concerns or personal care. It is impressive to see the dedication to both the Big East and River X races by these guys, coupled with great sponsors and almost fanatical volunteers. And it’s good to see the race growing in popularity (there are more crazy people out there and that makes me feel good because I know I’m in good company!).

By the time we reached Bracebridge after pealing two hours off our last years’ time, still warm, well fed and hydrated we had to make a rather tough decision – to perhaps pull out early and prevent further damage to old wrist injuries that flared up. After 85 km. and an estimated time of completion computed at 19 hours, we decided to quit. For us that took more courage than paddling the remaining 45 km. to finish…as I said, we don’t quit at anything we put our minds to.

Andrea, my wife and paddling partner, never fails to astound me. Even though she had more anxiety about doing the race again than I did, she was the first to say “okay, next year, we can do it again, maybe get a faster canoe” and her enthusiasm is contagious. We are trippers first and always, as are the majority of racers, and it’s good to see such eclectic crazy canoeheads getting in to this masochistic competition; also great to hear of the ‘good Samaritan’ misadventures that befall the course, where canoeists/racers stop to help those in trouble.

Next year – for sure…we’ll be there again, injuries or not, maybe ramp it up to a faster canoe so that we can sneak into the top run category. Denial works well with getting older too. Maybe we’ll see the likes of Kevin Callan out there on the course next year – I understand he likes challenging canoe routes (but he once told me he doesn’t like paddling in cold weather…that’s just our secret, okay?)

~Hap Wilson

Read Hap and Andrea’s Muskoka River X accounts from last year here: She Said, He Said: Muskoka River X 2013 or view Hap’s 2013 Canoeroots feature on this epic race here: Hap, Muskoka River X, and Canoeroots Magazine. To find out more about the Muskoka River Xvisit their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Hap, Muskoka River X, and Canoeroots Magazine

Canoeroots Cover

This past year Hap and Andrea, along with a number of other brave adventurers, embarked on what is known as the longest (and most challenging) one-day canoe race in the entire world. It’s called the Muskoka River X. Hap recently wrote about thier experience in a piece just published by Canoeroots Magazine.  You can read or share it online (http://goo.gl/JitKGu) or with the Canoeroots app on an Apple (http://goo.gl/A7ouhl) or Android (http://goo.gl/MTrQ8K) device. Or find it in print at your favourite paddling store.


Muskoka River X by Hap Wilson

Muskoka River X by Hap Wilson

Muskoka River X by Hap Wilson

Muskoka River X by Hap Wilson


Muskoka River X by Hap Wilson

The Wilson’s To Take On Big Adventures This Season


Happy Family

Hap, Andrea, and their children Alexa and Chris at the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show

The above photo was just emailed to Hap’s social media team from Bill Swift of Swift Canoe & Kayak with the subject line “Happy family”. It was taken at the Outdoor Adventure Show in Toronto this past weekend. (Thanks Bill!) But interestingly enough, Christopher and Alexa don’t only accompany their parents to the shows. They are taking on the Big East X challenge this year along with Hap and Andrea as well. Put on by the adventurous folks of the epic Muskoka River X, the Big East X marathon/adventure race is considered a warm up to their big River X event. Which, by the way, Hap and Andrea are also signed up for, plus they are planning to take on the North Bay Mattawa Canoe Race this year too… Revisiting the very same race they took on together over 20 years ago. But that’s a whole other story!