In adventure racing, experience can make all the difference.
When the second Yukon Adventure Challenge kicked off early Saturday in Carcross, it wasn’t the greenhorn slaughter of last year’s inaugural race.
This year’s field was much more experienced, aware of what adventure racing is all about.
It was ready for the challenge.
Forty-six racers, (nine four-person teams and five two-person) started out from the charred carcass of the MV Tutshi, running LeMans style with their gear to the beach on Lake Bennett, to their waiting canoes.
From there, teams paddled 30-kilometres down the west arm of Bennett.
Absent Carcross’ normally wicked winds, Bennett proved a perfect start to the race.
“It was glass — which that lake never is,” said organizer Greg McHale.
The first team hopped out of their canoe after three and a half hours of paddling, and immediately hoofed it to a nearby canyon in the headwaters of Fenwick Creek … where the first real test awaited.
Adventure racing always includes an element of rope work — last year competitors had to rappel down a cliff in Golden Canyon.
This year’s rope challenge was a little more intense, and anyone with vertigo would have a hard time getting past it.
Competitors came to a 70-metre-deep canyon, which they had to cross on a zipline.
The 80-metre crossing zipped for awhile, but included a fair amount of pulling hand-over-hand to get to the other side — a technique known as a Tyrolian traverse.
“That was a highlight for a lot of the teams,” said McHale. “It was so spectacular, and such a beautiful area, although a lot of them never looked down to see it.
“It was probably a lowlight for some, though nobody froze up and didn’t do it.”
From there, teams trekked over a pass into the Wheaton River Valley, which they followed to the next transition point at the Annie Lake Road. Snowy conditions on the pass, and some creative route choices, put most of the teams behind schedule.
“There wasn’t a summit on the route, but some teams found one,” laughed McHale. “The whole section was in a really high, alpine area.”
At this point, frontrunners Scott Ford and John Markez (Team Cheechakoes) had the race pretty much in the bag, barring any major disasters. They arrived at the fourth bridge of the Annie Lake Road 12 hours after starting, at 6 p.m., a solid five hours ahead of the next team.
“They were right on schedule, exactly where we figured they’d be,” said McHale.
That’s not surprising, considering both are seasoned adventure racers — Toronto-based Ford competes professionally with the McHales on Team Supplierpipeline, and Vancouver’s Markez is a familiar face on that circuit as well.
After chugging a can of cold soup — the pair hopped on their mountain bikes and headed down Annie Lake Road — to Alligator Lake Road.
“That section of the road and trail was pretty wet,” said McHale. “There was lots of hike-a-bike in there.”
The slowest part of the bike section was an ATV trail that connected Alligator to Coal Lake Road — and didn’t appear on any maps.
“I think the mountain bike was the toughest part of the race, especially after the trek,” he added.
The race followed Coal Lake Road to Mt. Sima, and down to McCrae where teams paddled the Yukon to Rotary Park for the finish.
The Cheechakoes arrived at the finish at 6:52 a.m., just shy of 25 hours in total time.
The next team to finish, Far From Home, arrived seven hours later, successfully defending its title as top four-person team. The veteran squad included Sean Mather, Mandy McClung, Tony Painter and Dan Shier.
According to McHale, this year’s course wasn’t any more difficult to navigate than last year’s — much of the route followed existing trails and roads — but skilled route-finders had a real advantage if they could interpret the maps correctly.
Navigation aside, this year’s course was 30 kilometres longer, and endurance was the key to finishing.
“At two a.m., some of us were nodding off on our bikes,” said Team Equilibrium’s Rene Claude Carrier. “But we kept going and it ended well.”
At the race banquet on Monday night at Mount McIntyre, awards were handed out and semi-recovered racers had a chance to reflect on their accomplishments.
“I have mixed feelings about it,” said rookie Michael Pealow, when asked if he’d consider racing again.
He was nursing a sore knee after flipping his over his handlebars on Alligator Lake Road, while racing with team Totally Uncalled Four.
“Ask me again in a week,” he said.
“It was a lot harder than I expected, but there were a lot of firsts for me.
“First time staying up for 36 hours, first time from Carcross to Whitehorse … the back way, and under my own power.
“The physical pain was no big deal, it was the lack of sleep that really did me in.”
Over time, the good parts of the grueling trek will be remembered, and all the frustration and fatigue will be forgotten.
“I hate to admit it — but I probably would do it again,” Pealow said.
Yukon Adventure Challenge, 167 kilometres
Final standings (in hours: minutes)
1st Cheechakoes, 24:52
2nd Far From Home, 31:57
(top four-person team)
3rd Hello Zulu, 33:26 (top
4th Shak Wak Attack, 33:50
5th It’s Four Our Souls, 33:52
6th Team Equilibrium, 35:19
7th Totally Uncalled Four,
8th Swamp Sisters, 39:55 (top
course finishers — Skeleton
Disqualified — Team Alaska
Scratches — Yukon Do It!,
Full Tilt, ‘Bous a Beaver,