Team Stories – Hansel and Gretel in Swampy Bogland

April 19, 2006

Team Hansel and Gretel in Swampy Bogland (L.Boyce, D.Dunne)
3100 points
3/5 teams in SAR-24

Eco-Endurance Challenge Search and Rescue style: Report of the team “Hansel and Gretel in swampy bogland” by Lyse Boyce

My team-mate, Dave Dunne, and I participated in the 24 hour Search and Rescue category of the E2C. Both of us had completed the eight hour challenge last year and that had left us wanting more. The most arduous part of preparing for this year’s race was coming up with a team name. At one point we were hoping for a name with a bike reference since we both have a cycling addiction. At the last minute we submitted an overly long name that was a combination of several ideas.

We carried stripped-down versions of our search packs and wore the orange Search and Rescue coats: For both of us these are the best multi-purpose outdoor coats we have. They arent bad in the rain, have lots of pockets, and provide good protection from underbrush. Also, all the reflective stuff on them comes in handy for the leapfrogging portions of night navigation. The heaviest items in our packs were snacks and water. We also carried things like spare socks, extra compass, knives, hats, safety glasses, bug dope, and a bit of first aid gear. We relied on the safety net of our Search and Rescue colleagues who were running the E2C to fill in the other gaps. Therefore our packs were lighter than when out on a search.

Our pre-race strategizing included making a pact not to run and employing a bike courier style mapping of routes: Loops of flexible sizes from home base. We stashed some food, camp stoves, and spare clothing at the base. I had slept there the night before, so the little tent became a gear cache. I ended up using the big communal tent for changing into dry clothes halfway through the race. While the small tent is great for bike touring and backpacking it doesn’t provide much space for peeling off layers of wet clothing.

On race day the start time of noon crept up quickly. I had obtained a ride to the site of registration and strategizing with Anne who was doing the eight hour race. She was really organized with route planning charts, office supplies, and pink team t-shirts. At the registration site I waited for Dave; cooked breakfast on the side porch and then loitered in the hall where everyone was planning with their maps. I noticed that Dave Regan and his team-mate, previous winners of the 24 hour race, were there bright and early with the eight hour people. I’d like to do that next year. It would be good to have more time to study the map and to chat with the other participants. There’s good energy in the room with everyone excited about the race. In the kitchen Tish and her crew were hard at work continuing their preparations for the banquets.

The hilltop start and finish base was great for radio reception this year but not spacious for camping. Despite this, folks found spaces for the Search and Rescue vehicles, tents, trailers, and a couple of blue plastic outhouses. A fleet of ATVs were lined up ready to patrol the roads. My first view of the base was late Friday night while providing the illumination of car headlights for Steve to do some chain-sawing. He was cutting long lengths of wood into smaller pieces for a campfire. Some of the E2C organizers were relaxing around a campfire after setting up the command centre, tents, radio communication and other things. Moose steaks and mussels were available to eat. I resisted the temptation to stay up extra late visiting with folks and instead tried to get as much sleep as possible before the big race.

Back to the event day: When the horn sounded at noon Dave and I joined the herd that was heading to point 138. It was fun to observe all the different teams participating and the variety of clothing and gear being used. Some teams had tiny packs and wore tights and running shoes. Others carried large packs and had big knives strapped to their belts. I made a silent wish for safe travels for all. Although I use the word ‘race’ frequently in this report, Dave and I focused on maintaining a steady pace and successfully completing the event rather than running and racing. I like how the E2C can accommodate a variety of fitness and experience levels.

The crowd thinned by the time we were heading to our second point (127) but we were still in the company of a couple of other teams. By the time we were heading to our third point (175) we were on our own except for crossing paths with other teams once in a while.

During this first part of the race we came across some bear scat and started a shit list. We didn’t see a lot of wildlife but we saw the signs: Deer, rabbit, squirrel, porcupine, coyote It is a very fragmented habitat with lots of roads, a great deal of logging has been done there over the years. There were many long stretches where the phrase “Logged all to hell” came to mind, and I longed for the more sustainable forestry practices that I have seen elsewhere. (Too rarely!) But we were on Bowater land and it was good to have access to a large tract of land for the big adventure. All the roads came in handy for the road-focused course design. There are still a few nice spaces where animals that require well-established forests and wetlands can live.

There seem to be several ingredients for a successful E2C experience. Physical fitness, good endurance, map and compass skills, and the ability to move well in the woods are important. Maintaining a positive outlook and a sense of humour is essential. A good balance between conversation and silence amongst the team is also good. I liked sharing little anecdotes and long stories. I liked hearing Dave’s bike stories and about his other adventures and ideas. Time to think or just zone out quietly and listen to the woods sounds was also enjoyable.

“Did you read that E2C article Blair sent out where it said that Kelvin and his team only stop for one 15 minute break in 24 hours?” “Yeah, thats brutal.” “I’m glad we stop once in a while. What do you want the theme of the next break to be?” “How ’bout protein and sugar?” “Sounds good. What kind of protein do you have?” “Salami, three feet of it. How ’bout you?” “One of those lazy cans of tuna. You know those little cans that have stuff already mixed in them? I brought the kind that has the hot pepper sitting in it…”

When we were heading south to point 235 we came across one of the largest tamarack trees I’ve ever seen. It was close to the river and looked beautiful with its new leaves sprouting. There were many strong tall bushes on the approach to the point and wet ground riddled with a maze of watery channels some of them quite deep. The bushes were growing densely and were chest high on me; it felt like walking in deep water against a current. We could see the little orange tent that marked the point a long time before we got there. After the E2C we heard that the guy who placed point 235 before the race was repeatedly threatened by an aggressive muskrat. That marsh was definitely ideal muskrat territory.

There was lots of wintergreen growing under the power lines. We ate some of the berries and chewed on the leaves as we headed towards the Scout camp at 262. Wintergreen plants provide a refreshing snack in the woods pretty much all year around. I really enjoyed observing many different plants throughout our 24 hours of travelling through a variety of habitats. Mayflowers were in their prime, red maples were flowering. Any bearing that went through a bog was rewarded by seeing pitcher plants amongst the sphagnum moss. Sweet fern shrubs were just getting their leaves those plants have a sweet woodsy smell. I picked a few sweet fern buds to carry in my pocket. At night the reindeer moss looked like snowdrifts.

Sunset happened close to point 201 for us. On our approach to it we met up with a team of three who work for the military. They had just been to the point we were going to visit next. They had great energy and were very friendly. We shared a few stories and then proceeded to the point. Wading in the creek felt nice. We were soaked by then anyway from the rain that had been falling and by walking through wet underbrush. The spring peepers and other frogs were calling all night. Their calls could be used as a navigation aid: Dense concentrations of calls corresponded with lakes, swamps, and slow-moving portions of streams.

The air was damp and foggy all night; there was condensation everywhere. Condensation had to be wiped from our compasses and maps before we could read them. Safety glasses were a joke. When they were covered with condensation we could hardly see. We figured we were safer without glasses. Our headlamps illuminated branches and other obstacles directly in front of us.

In the middle of the night we had a rest stop at the start/finish base. Changing into dry clothes and boots was excellent. I had been getting a bit cold even though we had been constantly moving and eating well. We sat around the campfire and cooked some food. I didn’t sit very close to the fire because I didn’t want to get used to its heat and then venture out into the chilly fog. Dave inadvertently transformed his gloves into fingerless ones when he was drying them by the fire. Several Search and Rescue volunteers were staying up late to provide support for the E2C participants and to enjoy a chance to visit around the campfire.

Along a stretch of dirt road after our midnight visit to the base Dave said “I’ve been walking with my eyes closed but I can hear your steps.” He had been walking with one eye closed and then the other, then both. Since darkness had fallen we had been walking in the dark on roads, using headlamps in the woods, and turning on bright flashlights when getting close to points. A while after the midnight break we started using headlamps on the roads in order to quell the urge to sleep. We wondered if those people wearing tights were running all night. We didnt see any teams for a long time but the big SAR 4×4 stopped to say hi. The fog was very mesmerizing; it looked like little stars moving fast in the light of the headlamp. We saw a tree that looked like a giant rabbit, another looked like it had a huge food pack strung up in it. The time between 0200 and 0430 hrs was definitely the peak of sleepiness and hallucinations.

“Do you think that Team Donair has set up camp yet?” Team Donair is an affectionate nickname for one of my favourite Search and Rescue teams. I imagined the team setting up a cozy little camp by the shores of a beautiful lake, catching a couple of trout, cooking the fish and some bannock over a fire. They would sleep well for a few hours then break camp at dawn and fuel themselves with a breakfast of strong coffee and reheated donairs. They would power through many points all morning…

“I wonder how those people we met at the power lines are? The ones who were upset about being unable to cross the 50 metre wide river.” “That was kind of funny.” “Yes, it was. I hope they’re doing better now.”

Wed been walking for a long time and the map indicated a long stretch of gravel road ahead: “This is probably a good time for that story I promised you. The one about my friend in Whitney Pier who didn’t start exercising til he was 39. I think hes 64 now. He does marathons and triathlons but also knows how to relax and have fun. We biked together on the Cabot trail. When he was 39 he felt out of breath at a dance and decided to quit smoking right then…”

Sometime in the middle of the night we placed bets on when the first songbirds would call in the morning. Dave guessed 0405 hrs, I guessed ten minutes later. We heard the first ones at 0505 hrs on the shores of Rocky Lake when we were eating food at point 130. The dawn light soon started and lights were then unnecessary. My trail mix didnt taste as good as it used to, probably because it was the same ingredients as what I had brought for all 5 days of a recent canoe trip. Next year I will pack more of a variety of food; small amounts of many different things. Despite daydreaming about having different food, I got a good energy surge as soon as the sky became a little lighter. This high energy lasted all the way to the finish.

“Wouldn’t it be excellent if Team Donair got their chocolate factory to sponsor a couple of points? There could be one 8 hour point and one 24 hour point stocked with chocolate and other treats. These would be a complete surprise and there wouldn’t be any chocolate marked on the map.” “Good plan, the chocolate points could be really difficult ones that are worth 5 or 6 hundred points in the race. They would be in big swamps, after a long hike through the woods, or the top of a large hill at the edge of the course. There could be a note tied to the punch thing saying where the chocolate is stashed.” “It would be good to have another surprise point or two where friendly people are hanging out and cooking food and have big pots of coffee on a fire. Like in the Advanced Searcher course. (That’s a Search and Rescue training course.) They could set up a tarp or a lean-to. It would be great if they were musicians singing songs and playing guitars.” “They would also have cold beer and dry socks.” “And blueberry pie.”

“You know what else would be good? Search and Rescue points that anyone could visit but a SAR team would have to visit a certain percentage of them.” “Yeah, they could be deeper in the woods and worth more points.” “Probably they’d put a lot of swamp ones in.” “Yeah, SAR involves a lot of swamps!”

We ran into the friendly military team again. Unfortunately one of them had hurt her leg and was walking along the road leaning on two sticks. Her team-mates were in cheerful encouraging moods. They were heading back to the base with plans to get one point on the way back. At the Scout camp the boys were cooking breakfast. They invited me to wake up John, their leader, who I had been hoping to say hello to. I told them that sleep is very valuable, and that I was really appreciating the idea of sleep after staying up all night. I like the idea of people being able to sleep well even when I can’t, so I didn’t wake up John. The Scouts were camped in a beautiful spot beside Deep Mountain Lake. The lake is surrounded by hills. It would be a nice spot to come back to for some camping and fishing.

We saved a point to retrieve near the end of the race. It was one of the roadside ones at the top of a hill. I decided to try one of those energy gel things for the first time before climbing the hill. I know youre supposed to experiment with new things before race day but I figured that even if it disagreed with me I’d be alright because I was feeling strong – and hungry. Also, I wanted to distract and entertain Dave who was experiencing a few painful blisters on the final stretch of the race. My cycling buddy in Whitney Pier had told me that he had started using energy gel on the final stretches of marathons and triathlons, and that it made a positive difference. I had chosen a fruit flavoured type made with rice recommended by a skinny serious employee of MEC.

We were sitting on some rocks at the edge of a clear-cut when I opened up the gel. I found it way too sweet and it had a horrible texture and taste. I ate it anyway because I wanted to see if it would jack up my already high energy levels. The only effect I noticed was that it acted as a diuretic and I had to stop to pee a couple of times. So really, it slowed me down!

It was sunny and bright with some black flies on the home stretch. It was strange to have such good visibility after the fog of Saturday and the darkness of the night. (I was really glad wed had fog instead of black flies on Saturday.) There were a lot of vehicles on the road. We didn’t want to give up the middle of the road but they were bigger than us. Some folks driving cars stopped to say hi on their way out, we had a little visit with Team Donair. The SAR 4×4 was being happily driven by AJ and Matt up and down and up and down the hill near the base, it sounded like it had sustained some serious muffler damage.

At the command centre we were warmly welcomed back by Nicole and Trish who were trading cookies for control cards. Kevin was taking photos of the teams as they arrived. Seldon was barbequing hamburgers for hungry racers. Other Search and Rescue volunteers and E2C participants were hanging out out and making plans to attend the big feast back at the hall in Fox Point. The food at the banquet was excellent: A turkey dinner with all the extras.

I had been stressed out about some things before the E2C. After the race and a night of sleep I felt more relaxed than I have in a long time. It was great to be roaming around in the woods, brooks, swamps, and back roads for a long stretch of time completing our version of the challenge. Later on it was entertaining to hear the anecdotes of other teams. I’m already looking forward to next years Eco-Endurance challenge and I wish there was a 24 hour race for each of the four seasons of the year!