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.
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.
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.
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.