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…
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.
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.
And we will end with Hap’s report…
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).
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?)
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 X, visit their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.