Thursday, July 31, 2003 - Athlete Perspective
Phil's XC Journal: Raid The North Adventure Race

By: Phil Villeneuve

A new challenge…

The Racing Team is moving forward.  Our ski team is getting results, evolving into a better marketing tool every year, and our programs our getting the attention and exposure we had hoped for.  So what next…

The Adventure Racing Team

This year’s goal was to build a team that would focus its efforts on the multi-sport scene.  We started off by introducing the team to a few smaller events but put most of our eggs into preparing a team that would challenge for the win at the Raid the North Adventure Race in Kimberley, BC. (July 26 and 27th 2003).

Things are never as easy as they seem.  How hard could it be to build a competitive team?  How hard could it be to win?  Well, it’s a little harder than you think!

After weeks of preparations (team selection, too much gear shopping, last minute sponsorship phone calls, packing, repacking, hotel booking, van rentals, support crew logistics) and a half dozen panic attacks, the team was a go!

But first, the Adventure Racing Team introduction: 

  • Dennis Colburn – Edmonton, AB – multiple marathon winner
  • Jack Cook – Edmonton, AB – Ex National Dev. Team XC skier
  • Jen Milner – Vernon, BC – Competitive paddler/triathlete
  • Phil Villeneuve – Canmore, AB – Ex National Team XC skier
  • Our course details (laid out across four 1:50 000 topo maps) and directions to the start were given to us at about 5pm on Friday.  The start, originally scheduled for midnight (but later delayed to 4am Saturday morning) was over an hours drive away, which meant that we would have only a few hours to plan our route, catch a few z’s and get out to the start.

    The race course was approx. 150km in length – consisting of 10 Check Points that involved the following disciplines:
    Mountain biking:  CP 1 to CP3 (Transition Area 1) – 45km
    Paddling:  CP3 to CP5 (TA #2) – 30Km
    Mountain biking:  CP5 to CP7 (TA #3) – 45km
    Trekking:  CP7 to Finish – 30km
    Rappelling Station:  CP9

    Our team was ready.  With 2 rookies on the team (myself and Jen), and a couple of races under the belts of Dennis and Jack, we didn’t really know what to expect but one thing we did know was that it was going to be a long workout!

    4am - And they’re off…

    Pacing was left behind with the dust and the spectators as most racers seemed to blast out of the start at a gut wrenching speed.  100 headlights (25 teams) bumped and jostled they’re way up the narrow logging road trying to pick the best line and trying to stay in touch with their teammates.  It was actually quite funny.  Dennis?  Are you there?  Jen?  Jen?  Are you there? Yeah, I’m here.  Where’s Dennis?  I don’t know, somewhere back there…

    We eventually found ourselves and set out at a steady pace.  The first few hours passed fairly quickly as the adrenaline and the excitement of riding in the darkness urged us on.  We plugged along picking off teams that had started too quickly and made it to CP 1 in 5th place.  Not a bad start we thought.

    The next mountain bike section was quite difficult because it involved a stretch of very technical riding sections that spanned for about 8km.  A few minor navigation mistakes and lots of time spent pushing the bikes through narrow, overgrown sections dangling on the side of steep banks, slowed our pace.  We arrived at CP2 in 7th place with a long downhill section to CP3 – ahhhh, a rest section…NOOOPE.  The descent was very fast, loose and extremely rough on the arms.  The team took another hit on the way down as Dennis crashed at over 70km/h!  With bruised ribs and a gravel road rash he continued down to CP3 (TA #1) to finally leave the bikes behind and start the paddling section.

    9: 42am - Row, row, row your boat…

    A quick change of clothe, a bit of food, some water refills and some emergency first aid action on Jen’s hamburger heels (from pushing her bike for hours) and Dennis’ road rash and off we went with our canoes.  The paddling proved to be our best discipline as we posted the fastest time from CP3 to CP5.  Jen’s strong paddling background proved to be a major help to the team, giving us some technique tips along the way.  With our slick ultra-light kayak paddles supplied to us by Totem Outfitters in Edmonton (thanks Harold/Craig) we literally flew by teams and arrived at CP5 in 3rd place!

    1:48pm - Back on the road again…

    The 30+ degree heat was almost unbearable as we started the bike section.  The team was stiff, sore and losing water faster than we could take it in.  The mountain bike section started from Kootenay Lake all the way up to Rose Pass (6,500 feet) on logging roads and 4 X 4 tracks.  The final push to the top was absolutely brutal.  It was too steep to ride and everyone was suffering from  the heat.  I was trying to keep tabs on everyone to make sure no one was suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke but I was struggling myself just to keep moving forward.  If it hadn’t been for a few streams along the way, one or all of us would have been seriously ill.  Many teams later called it quits because of heat related problems.  The climb was endless.  Switchback after switchback kept revealing steeper and steeper stretches of the climb.  When we had just about had enough, we turned the corner and there it was…a flat stretch, revealing Rose Pass.  The descent was overgrown and fast but we moved well and caught up to Team Spirit as we cruised through CP6 and moved into 2nd placeoverall.  This gave us renewed energy and we finally started to believe that we could win the race.

    8:33pm - Darkness falls…

    We arrived at CP7 tired, battered but ready for the next fight.  The mostly downhill ride to CP7 from CP6 had given us a small lead on Team Spirit but they still managed to sneak by us again with a faster transition into the trekking section.  We followed closely, a few minutes behind. 

    The race plan called for us to follow a logging road for 4km until it disappeared.  From there, we would have to make our way to CP8 at the top of Murphy Pass, which was actually on another mountain to our left.  The idea was to reach the Pass via a ridge that connected to the mountain we were climbing up.  At the 3km mark, I had the ‘brilliant’ idea to cut down to the Alki Creek, which separated the two mountains, and jump onto the trail that supposedly followed the creek right up to the pass.  Simple.  Unfortunately, after having made our way down to the creek, we realized that the trail wasn’t there!  Having just descended over 100m to get to the creek, we weren’t about to climb back up (although we probably should have) so we trudged on up thecreek.  Darkness soon enveloped us and after a few hours of going nowhere we decided to head up the opposite bank towards Murphy Pass.  The mountain was so steep and littered with fallen logs that progress was even slower.

    This was not a good situation.  In 6 hours we had gone nowhere, progressing maybe 2km, and in addition,  we didn’t really know our exact position, Jack had lost his headlamp as it had been unknowingly ripped off his head earlier in the trek and Jen’s hamburger heels were obviously very painful to walk on.  We were very discouraged at the thought that we had most certainly lost our grip on a top 3 finish.  Life sucked.

    ??am – Reality Check…

    At some point during the wee hours in the morning we made a group decision to turn back and follow the creek back down to CP7.  This would signal the end of our race.  I broke the seal on our emergency radio and called in race headquarters to let them know of our plan.  Once we realized that our race was over, the team’s energy came crashing down.  We were like drunks, stumbling in the forest.  We took out our emergency blankets, huddled on various rocks, stumps, trees and tried to sleep until we could actually see something.

    11 hours after having left CP7, we popped out onto the road and made the short walk to our support crew and team vehicle, which had been waiting for us anxiously.  It was a long drive back to civilization.

    Chalk one up for experience…

    Life goes on.  I learned from my mistake.  Next time, I’ll take the easy way, even if it means to go up the wrong mountain (strange but true).

    The Adventure Racing Team turned some heads this weekend by posting some very fast leg times between CPs.  Who knows what could have happened if we did make it through.  But, I’m not going to turn this into a  could’a, should’a, would’a, we didn’t finish, but life goes on.  One thing is for sure, next year, the team will compete in the many more adventure races and this time, we’ll be prepared to win.

    Other race notes:

  • Team Wild Rose of Calgary won in 30hr +. 
  • Team Spirit was second, 1hr 30min behind.
  • Only 4 teams finished in the 36hour time limit.
  • Check out the GPS tracking coverage by going to , click the “Raid the North – Kimberley” display above the top menu bar and follow the instructions.  Pretty cool.  You get to see exactly where I screwed up!
  • It's always fun to read about others misfortunes, isn't it?

    Until next time,

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