A small window of light emitting from my Led, barely guides me through the forest floor. Relentless mosquitoes still hover around me waiting for their chance at some of my blood. With each step forward the thick brush hammers my beaten shins. Only twelve hours in to the Eco-Challenge North American Championships and I am already questioning my sanity.
Hours earlier I and my Helly Hansen/ Water Tower Inn teammates were joking as we enjoyed the beautiful surroundings from the comfort of a CN Railway car. As we cruised north, it was clear why Race Director Steve Menzie and Coarse designer Rich Marshall had chosen this exquisite area. The thick forests in this region are legendary and only open up as they drop onto Lake Superior, known for its hazardous conditions as well as its beauty. Hoping from the train and making our way east off the start line across the Agawa River was a harsh wake up call for all 40 teams from across North America.
Soon all teams would be locked into their own personal battle against Mother Nature.
Digesting a coffee crisp, I follow the lead of Bob Millar, our navigator. Trish Westman and John Shoust round out our team that now sits in third place. As we stumble out of the bush and onto a logging road that will lead us to Check Point 1 we let out a big cheer. It is 2:30 am Monday morning and we do not have much choice other than putting our bikes together and "hittin the road." The cold air forces us to hurry and soon we are on our way. A golden sunrise greets us as we struggle up another granny gear climb along a dreaded power line trail. As late afternoon approaches, we are elated to exchange our bikes for double kayaks. As we launch our boats into Lake Superior a yell appears from a distant cabin, "get your sails up, its rippin out there"! We kindly oblige and before we know it, we have taken a 20km chunk out of the 180km paddle.
Traveling at night is something few humans do. During an Adventure Race, it is these times that we cherish as well as curse. If not for the dreaded sleep monsters, that are constantly reminding you that sleep is not an option but rather a necessity, it would be easy to keep going. However, as you try to push the sleep envelope your body seems to rebel by inventing tricky hallucinations and causing you to have the silliest of conversations with yourself and your teammates. Our first sleep came on Tuesday morning as we beached our boats on the rocky shoreline, wrapped our wet bodies in our space blankets and lay down in the dirt. Sheltered from the wind I slept like a baby until the horrible sound of Bobs alarm reminded me that 45 minutes was all the sleep I would be getting tonight. Getting up is always a shock as you try to shake the coldness from your body and continue on.
Over the next three days, we would travel over 200km by bike, canoe up the Montreal and Cow Rivers and push our bodies to the limit. Our total sleep would amount to 1 hour per 24 hours of racing. At checkpoints, volunteers could not believe our enthusiasm. Little did they know that enthusiasm, was all we were running on!
As Friday morning approached, we were rewarded with some welcomed downhill on our mountain bikes. The finish line was now in site. However, the need to arrive there was less of urgency. The sad feeling that this epic adventure was about to stop is sometimes the hardest part of an Adventure Race. As I looked around to Bob, John and Trish there was one thing we all had in common. We were all smiling!
Team Helly Hansen/ Water Tower Inn placed second three hours behind Team Salomon Canada and 20 hours ahead of Eastern Outdoors also from Canada. These three teams were the only teams to officially cross the finish line.