Team Stories – Brunswick Blister Busters
April 19, 2004
Brunswick Blister Busters (R.Hughes, A.Whaley)
7/28 teams in PC-24
9/45 teams overall on 24-h course
This was the fourth time Alex and I teamed up for the annual Nova Scotia rogaine, after 2 Maxi-Mooses and one previous E2C. It’s good to have an event like this close to home. Our fitness routine is to cross-country ski now and then through the winter, then fit in a few hikes once the snow goes. At least three. The last one we did was the weekend before the E2C, and it featured heavy cold rain, snow, hail and a lot of freezing wind, as well as squishy trails, mud, ice, and clearcuts. Come race day, the weather would be good for sure. And hey, as we drove down on the Friday night, skies were clear and the thermometer hit 30C near Moncton! We got to the event centre, ate a big chilli and spaghetti supper, did a final sort of our gear and packs, then camped overnight out back, ready for an early start on Saturday. Alex’s sister Vicky was with us, she had joined the Lost Hikers team, with Harold McQuade and Lise Frigault of Moncton, in the 24-h rec. category.
Race day dawned fine and dry, promising heat later on. We registered as early as possible and started on our route planning,slurping big bowls of porridge and downing cups of tea as we scanned the map. Mental frenzy. We divided the map in half at the latitude of the start/finish and totalled the points in the northern and southern areas. Nothing much to choose between them, as expected. We colour coded the point scores and considered the top controls. Wow, it looked as if we could actually plan a route that would take in the start/finish area!! What a luxury! We could leave our main meal food at the drop-off tent, along with other useful stuff. Looking at the most valuable controls, we decided to do an anticlockwise loop to the south first, hit the hash tent, then do a smaller loop to the north. We thought we might get to the hash tent by about midnight….or maybe later? We didn’t like the look of the terrain around the 600 point control 188, in the NW part of the map. 246, also worth 600, looked much easier. So 188 was scratched and our route to the west planned. The only concern was where to cross the Ingram River, the map was not clear on whether a bridge existed at one crucial point. We figured we could find a place to cross, based on other map detail.
We headed west after starting and picked up 136, 152 and 243. The sun was hot, and on open woods roads we were drinking a lot. We decided to visit the western scout safety point to top up our water before heading on towards control 175, a rich 400 pointer. Luckily, the scout group had set up south of the position shown on the map, which meant we had virtually no doubling back to do. The venturers were baring lots of skin in the hot sun. Probably a few sunburns later on! They told us we were the first team to show up since they set up camp. We filled up our bottles and headed off. The going was variable heading towards 175. Patches of older commercial thinning were the worst. The downed trees were too rotten to walk on without breaking. But overall it wasn’t bad. Soon we heard the river as we descended into the steep valley. Would we be able to cross? Turned out we came out next to a small island that split the river in two. Crossing to the island was easy. The next bit required wading. Trekking poles came in handy. The river was refreshing, shall we say. On the other side was a sizeable clearcut. We didn’t like the fact that 175 was so close to the edge of the map, and the feature appeared to be a broad spur, rather than a hilltop, but as it turned out, the control was plainly visible at the edge of a cut area. We cleared off away from the control and then sat down for “lunch” and a rest in the sun. A chance to dry out pruny toes and wet socks, which felt good. Alex pulled of his sodden socks. The tape job we’d done earlier had turned to pulp. I ate cheese, nuts, banana and various other stuff while Alex started burrowing into his substantial bagel and trail mix supply. We probably rested a good 45 minutes or more, then carried on towards 246 and scooped up 600 points. After that we decided to skirt the lakeshore south towards 262. The going was variable but pretty good on the whole. We ran into the Lost Hiker team with Vicky, Harold and Lise, they had just been to 262 and were on the way out as we went in. We each hustled on our separate ways. Then, south to 241, continuing on our route to take in a string of 300 point controls. We approached 241 by taking the track to the west of Mud Lake. We were surprised by the amount of open woods with thick moss underfoot, good stuff. Passed Team “Up”, going the other way. Punched the control and continued on the other side of the lake and out over the side of the hill. Emerging on the main trail we had a great view north, with the lowering sun and Pogwa Lake visible in the distance.
We moved on towards 218. I have noticed a tendency for our pace to gradually increase when we get on big open roads, until we’re going faster than we really want to, and it began to happen here! As Alex sped up, I slowed down. Later on, he said he was doing the same when I sped up! We found that a couple of trails marked on the map in this area did not seem to exist, and 218 seemed to be the first control to be throwing us off balance. Running into another team in the vicinity, the consensus was that this control wasn’t there. What to do? The sun was now way down. We had 215 and 500 points in our sights before dark, if we could, so off we went. The temperature began falling very fast. We pulled on some of our warmer clothing.
We came at 215 from the west, at first along a very narrow vague uphill trail, that wasn’t much use, and not very reassuring. Then it was compass work and slow bushwhacking through patches of thick scratchy stuff. It was getting dimmer and dimmer. Was this the beginning of the hilltop? No, we surely hadn’t come far enough yet. But maybe it was. We started circling the “hilltop”. Where was that lake? Now we had to put on our headlights, and progress slowed. No sign of a control. We were getting a bit tired and in retrospect, judgement was in decline… dark dingy thick woods, and that sort of sinking feeling you get knowing that it will be slow going for some time, with darkness closing in all around. What were we doing here? Think! Focus! We had to relocate to something more definite, so we took off on an easterly bearing, knowing that wherever we were, the stream would catch us if nothing else did. Down a bit, then up, up up. What? Here was the main hill, after all. We weren’t in far enough before. We crossed it until we found the steep eastern side. I was getting worn out mentally and needed a rest, so we sat down and took a break. It was now totally dark. Fleece jacket time. Alex handed me one of his killer concoctions, a mixture of chocolate and ground espresso coffee. Bam!! I was baack! We decided to head north and in that way locate the true hilltop, and get that control! Let’s go! 500 points!! It still wasn’t easy. The trees here were immense, great tall spruces and pines. We kept at it. It was getting more open, and I was getting that sixth sense that says “you’re close”. Alex gave a call, there it was. We’d found it. Rrrrrrrr! Time consuming, but now it was in the bag. We took a bearing east to intersect the stream, down the steep slope, found the stream and followed it south to pick up the trail towards 204 and 400 more points. At this stage 209 was just south of us, but worth a paltry 100. Why? Anyhow, we skipped it. Now the stars were hidden by a layer of cloud, and as we hiked on towards 204, patches of fog started drifting low overhead. It was pretty cool, but we were warm enough. A couple of keeners zapped past us, trekking poles flying. We trudged on at our ambling pace. When we got to 204, waddyaknow, those Lost Hikers again, sitting in the road. The keeners were still at the control, getting their breath back, maybe? Punched the control and now what? We wondered about taking in 207 on the way north. It would not add much to the distance, and 150 points. Why not. Well, we’d find out before long.
Getting to 207 was easy enough. The reflective tape helped in finding the controls in the thick bush. When we got there, those Lost Hikers were there again, sitting down and all festooned with bright green glowsticks and looking like a Christmas tree. The map showed a trail connecting eastwards towards control 203, but things did not agree on the ground. We ended up in a clearcut. The Lost Hiker team was just ahead of us peering at their maps and the surrounding blackness. Alex and I decided to head off on a bearing northeastwards, looking to intersect the northbound trail to 203. There was small stream en route. We forced ahead into thick scrub. So did the Hikers. Muffled noises could be heard as we all pushed ahead, then it became apparent we were entering a swamp. Feet sinking under water, poor footing, thick trees, ugh. We ended up with the Hikers, contemplating a narrow marshy stream. Ground like wet sponge all around, and about as firm. Shriek from Vicky as she went in up to her waist. Harold hauled her out. There was no way over this thing. The trekking poles went all the way down, very deep. Steamy vapour was slowly rising off the water in our headlamp beams. But wait! Here were two big boulders we could get over on! Solid as…..clumps of weed. Which is what they actually were. The night was playing tricks on us. The Hiker crew decided to go back and follow the trails round to the south. This meant a lot of extra kms. Alex and I parallelled the stream northwestwards, hoping it would “firm up”. It finally did, and we were able to cross, and pick up a very nice trail on the other side that took us directly to control 203. Punched it, then headed north. We considered 200, on the lakeshore, but it required a long bushwhack and looked like it could be tricky. So we just hit 201 and rolled on in to the hash tent, walking right past our out-of-bounds car on the way. It was now about 2.30 am, with a real Scotch mist, a fine drizzle was making everything clammy and wet.
Once at the tent the first thing was to sit down, get our disgusting socks off, and start boiling up a billy on our camp stove. We had stashed our cooler of food and other stuff in the hash tent. Some people were trying to sleep in the ground and others were just sitting in chairs talking. We sat there recuperating and listening to the tales of woe and adventure being discussed. Who had fainted, who was medevacked out, who had heatstroke, who had an argument with whom, whose feet were trashed, which team broke up,etc etc. When we arrived we were warm, but as time went on we got a bit chilly. Bare feet were no longer comfortable, but our shoes were soaked. Should have stashed spare footwear for this stage! Mental note for next time. We scoffed down a huge plate of spaghetti and shrimp and had another round of tea. A couple of hours went by. People stumbled about in the fog, and now and then a patrol ATV came in. Where were the Lost Hikers? Finally they rolled in. They had covered huge distances and attempted several more controls than we did, but had bad luck finding some of them. We served them up some tea. Vicky and Lise went into the SAR truck to warm up. After a good long break it was time to suit up and go after some more flags. We headed off at about 5.30. The sky was getting light.
First to control 131, a steep descent. All the controls near the start/finish seemed to be on top of or at the bottom of major hills. What kind of sadist set this course?! Oh yeah, Mike Haynes. Backs, legs and knees were starting to rebel. Our feet were holding up OK, but we went slowly. On to 161. Another dirty great downhill. But 400 points! Lots of ice still left on the lakeshore here. Back uphill again! On towards 160. Shortly before we got to it, who should overtake us but the Lost Hikers, who were – running! OK, go ahead. We’ll just walk. Our paths diverged some as we chose our routes up the hill. We got there first. Great control site, with huge granite outcrops. We hustled off to keep our distance. We were within striking distance of 165 but decided not to bother. The only logical route back from where we were, although very safe, involved a lot of climb and descent, and we did not want to risk losing the 500 point early finish bonus. We were content to keep moving steadily with no panicking. Following the power line was very scenic with more awesome granite features. Then a lousy sloppy muddy trail covered with slash piles, back out to the main trail. We finished with lots of spare time, at about 10 am. In retrospect we could have got one or two additional controls if we had pushed it a bit more, but what the heck. We like to finish feeling good.
We were very satisfied with our performance. No blisters, no major mistakes, and good pacing. We deliberately set a slower pace that previous rogaines and found it to be better. We were active on the course for about 19 hours, and had about an hour’s rest during that time, plus 3 hours or at the hash tent. We didn’t sleep at all.