Even good teams have bad races and so it was for Team Orange Triangle at Raid the North – Bark Lake on May 4-5, 2002. Although energized by a powerful new teammate in Cammie Crampton who brought expedition experience and top placing finishes to the team, we were stymied by small errors that added up to big losses of time. Despite our disappointing performance, we enjoyed the beautiful territory and liked the structure and management of this well-run race. Right now we are looking at this as the first of several expected “Raid” experiences in coming years.

Run in central Ontario province about three hours northeast of Toronto, the Bark Lake race consisted of trekking, biking and paddling sections over gently rolling terrain laced with marshes, lakes and streams. Snow melt and recent rain had expanded the mapped water features and created seasonal trickles and pools that further complicated navigation. In the pre-race review, it struck us that the distances didn’t seem all that far for a 36-hour race. What we failed to conclude from that observation was that navigation would be tricky and speed of travel slower than expected—conclusions that would have served us well.

The race began at midnight Friday, with 30 co-ed teams of four thundering off into the chilly night from Camp Bark Lake. We were immediately wet to our knees from the swampy conditions as the usual adrenalin and excitement of the start carried the pack along for 15 to 20 minutes before teams began to split up in various directions. Searching for a dirt road running southeast and marked on the map, we instead found an unmarked ATV trail on the same heading and, as it turned out, just 50 to 100 meters away from the desired road. Still adjusting to the 1:50,000 scale map, we burned an hour scouting the trail before finding the needed road and rolled into CP1 near the back of the pack. While we were disappointed with this start, we knew there was plenty of racing to go as evidenced by the fact that one team that only beat us to CP1 by a few minutes wound up finishing in the top five overall.

At CP1 we mounted our bikes and began a 15-mile ride through the night, hitting several checkpoints placed along dirt roads or ATV trails. Although these paths were often little more than bogs and mud holes, we moved well through this section, easily finding the CPs. Still, the cold hit hard as wet and muddy brakes, gears and feet froze in the breezes that came with traversing the many hills on the course. 

As dawn broke, we arrived at CP4 and our first transition area where we enjoyed the ministrations of Keith and Candy Chase as well as the roaring fire maintained by race volunteers. As we rode out of CP4 with the sky blue and clear above us, we felt like we were on the right track and fully capable of completing the race with a competitive time. Indeed, we expected to see Keith and Candy again before sundown. But just as the sun warmed the day and thawed our frozen extremities, it seemed to evaporate our chances for a successful race. In a demoralizing mental lapse, we forgot the maps needed for the middle sections of the course at CP4 and lost an hour back-tracking to retrieve them.

Back on track again, we moved well through CP5, dropping our bikes and picking up paddling gear before heading out on the trek. Here complacency got the better of us. The course from 5 to 6 was all trail, although much of it was not marked on the map. Moving quickly down the path, we violated the first rule of orienteering and failed to keep track of our location on the map. Although we pressed on down the challenging ATV road that included a memorable marsh crossing through chest-deep freezing water, uncertainty about our location ultimately caused us to stop short of the CP and backtrack. In total, we lost about three hours here—time that could have been avoided if we had more carefully noted our position from the start of the trek. 

By the time we reached CP6, we were running at the very tail end of the pack and realizing that we would not make the second transition area before dark. Still we maintained our spirits and navigated well through a challenging bushwhack from 6 to 7. Despite our success on this leg, movement through the terrain was slow and we arrived at CP 7 as the sun set. We still had one more trek to CP8 before we could get in the boats and paddle for the second transition area. Having assumed that we would be boating in daylight, we had not brought the powerful lights we would need for night navigation on the water, so we knew that leg would now be tedious and slow moving. With a 1 am cutoff at the end of the paddling, we figured our chances of finishing the race were slim, but we set out for CP8 hoping to make it to our waiting support crew before having to stop. 

The race directions implied that unmapped trails would take us from CP7 to CP8, so we carefully charted our way down the ATV tracks that headed in the right direction. Discovering that none of the trails led all the way to our desired destination, we knew that we faced a challenging nighttime bushwhack to find CP8 and we felt certain that race officials would stop us from continuing at that point. Although prepared to go on physically, we could see little point in continuing just to be stopped in the next few hours, so we broke out the radio and called in our position.

Many of our past races featured trivial navigation that could often be followed with little resort to the map. By contrast, Raid the North requires racers to maintain constant contact with the map and a good bit of aggressive “reading between the lines” to go crashing through the bush on a dead heading toward the next objective. Having seen what Raid the North style racing is all about, we look forward to returning to Canada next year to successfully tackle a future Raid. 

A special thanks to Cammie Crampton who demonstrated the true spirit of adventure racing while traveling with us during the Raid. She was always ready to move and never complained about the conditions, the circumstances or the consequences of our race decisions. We look forward to including Cammie in future TOT squads. 

–Ray Daniels

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