Notes from the field

The pair of us at the start of our journey

I was out on the 24 hour course again this week with fellow adventurer Joel Larson and have a few things to report.  To begin with, it was an awesome day out - it took us five hours to complete what we're calling the 'short-course' trek.  Granted we were doing it in the daylight and racers will be doing it by headlamp........

Me and my sweet get-up
Joel sporting his 'natural' sunscreen/bug dope

I decided to play the role of gumby racer as much as i could.  I carried a 12 dollar walmart raft, a two piece break apart paddle, a 10 dollar barrel style pump, an old school PFD, food, and about 4 liters of water - all stuffed into an old river bag that didn't have a waist strap (a fact i regretted within 10 minutes of setting out because my shoulders didn't like the load).  The pack probably weighed about 25 pounds.  I wore long pants and long sleeved shirt - loose fitting nylon weaves with lots of vents/mesh, and a hat with neck protection (it was over 90 degrees when we began our hike).  Joel wore more traditional race garb - tights and a technical t-shirt, and carried a nice fitted ergon pack, an alpacka scout with hand paddles, and had a bag weight closer to 20 lbs.  Both outfit's seemed fine.  I was less bothered by mosquitos because the loose nature of my clothing helped keep them off.  I also didn't have to worry about sunburn, as joel did.  But it turns out pembina mud is reasonably effective sunscreen and bug repellent.  Joel definitely looked a bit more chic.  We were aiming to see what worked and what didn't so we could pass the info on to you.  Here are the lessons we learned that might be useful:

Awesome terrain

1).  A pack that fits and carries well is a good idea.
2).  Trekking poles might be a good idea for some people.  Some of the terrain may be difficult - river beds, rock hopping, etc.  Neither one of us had them and we managed just fine, but we're both pretty studly.
3).  'Shortcuts' may not always be shorter in terms of time.  We don't want to influence teams to much either way here - route choice is a big part of the fun and strategy of a race.  We tried to take a couple - some paid off, some didn't.

Joel during one of our shortcuts

4) Paddle vs. hand paddles?  The length of a two piece paddle sticking out of my pack was only a real hindrance during serious bushwhack sections (we only had one on our journey).  The paddle is noticeably faster (maybe by 1 mph) in the river, provided you know how to use it.  Handpaddles of course are free and weigh almost nothing.  If you have a five piece paddle, this may be the best option.  In reality, either will work fine.
5) Boats - both of our boats worked fine.  I'm sure that if i had hit a stick or tree or unseen rock i'd have destroyed my cheap raft, but it was pretty easy not too.  If you intend to use a 12 dollar walmart job, i strongly recommend buying it now and getting acquainted with it's feel, handling, and learn how to treat it with kid gloves.  I also DO NOT recommend inflating the floor in the walmart (or other similar) rafts - this takes extra time and is unnecessary.  The walmart rafts feel very fragile, but at least in my experience, handled just fine.

Walmart pack-raft in all its splendor

6) Boats 2 - practice inflating and deflating your raft quickly (and with care if you have a budget model).  you will be doing so several times throughout the race.
7).  There is at least one section where you may encounter poison ivy on the race. I am extremely allergic to the stuff and recognize it instantly and only saw it at one place on this excursion (a 300 ft shortcut), and didn't get any.  Nevertheless, this is another reason to wear long pants for any bushwhacking.  We will have Technu poison ivy wash at the finish line for those who want to shower with it.

keep track of the river bends!

8). Navigation:  The race takes in lots of trail-less wilderness - downriver paddling or hiking up creeks/valleys.  As such a significant portion of the navigation will involve keeping track of your position using river or creek bends.  Floating too far on a river and passing a checkpoint is a great way to let all the teams behind you catch up - and its easy to do if you let down your guard, as the river may movee faster than it seems (we were floating at 3-3.5 mph without paddling).

9) egress:  There will be points on the course with no/limited egress.  For example at one point you will be 2 miles up a 4 mile long river valley.  If something goes wrong there is no 'quick' way out - the sides of the valley are VERY dense bush, and the fastest way out is a 2 mile walk to either end of the valley.  Teams need to go in being self sufficient, and with the mindset that members can only drop/withdraw at manned CPs.

The road is hot, but at least we know where we are!

If you've raced our races before - this race is going to be different.  The wilderness feel will not be 'manufactured' (ie being 500 feet from a road in the woods can still 'feel' like wilderness) - it will be real - as real as it gets in this great state of ours. With the exception of a 2 mile stretch of county road that links sections, Joel and I saw no signs of civilization. We did see lots of deer, beavers, and loads of moose and what Joel thought was either wolf or some sort of cat track (cougar?).  Good stuff.

Finally, if you love reading about other peoples suffering (in anticipation of your own of course), check out Stephen Regenold's great write-up of team GearJunkie/Yogaslacker's recent win at the Stubborn Mule 30 hr. race in central Wisconsin.

Who needs a trail?

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