Monday, March 6, 2017

Actif Epica Recap

I rode out of St Malo Manitoba at 7:30 am, in time to see the sun rise and I rode into the Forks in downtown Winnipeg after sunset.  12 hours on trail, gravel, pavement, snow and mud.   This is the story of Actif Epica 2017.

Alarm went off at 3:15 am.  I think this is the earliest I have ever had to set an alarm for an event.  We had our clothes ready to go, ate some peanut butter overnight oats, filled up our hydroflasks with hot water and was out of the hotel just after 4.  Met a couple other crazies like us in the lobby.
The walk to the bus at the Forks was short but I wondered what people have done when it is super cold out and they are dressed for activity (in other words: very lightly)  The temperature was just below freezing -4 and we were hoping it would stay that way for a while.  We were encouraged to be at the bus by 4:15 and though we were a couple minutes early, the bus was already almost full.  Crazy, prompt people.
 Keener front seats for us.

I was 1 of 5 women on a testosterone dominated bus.  Lots of interesting conversation floating around.   Departure time was just after 4:30 and just over 20 of us got off the bus in St Malo at 5:30 to a locked arena.  A few minutes of waiting until someone came to unlock the door.
In the 1 1/2 hours we had until start time, I ate a Quest protein bar and a banana, used the washroom, pumped the tires in my bike to 12 and 14 psi in the back and front tires respectively and did some chatting.

 It wasn't long and we headed outside for the 7:30 start.  Everyone with their front white and back red blinking lights on in the pre-sunrise morning with balmy temps of -3 made for a beautiful moment.

7:30, we were off.
A few intersections and minutes later we entered a provincial park and rode down onto the lake.

 A pretty long lake with a lot of turns.  An amazing sunrise came just coming around 1 corner.  It was breathtaking.  I thought to stop and take a picture but decided to kept up with the group and not get left behind.  So thankful someone did stop though. Photo credit Thomas Woods

There was 5 check points until the finish for those in the 120 km event.  The miles until the first check point were so much fun.  All the riders were pretty close together with the exception of a few who took off much quicker.  There was a lot of turns, some gravel roads but mostly trails through the bush and along fields that were rideable and a couple where we had to push.  The rideable trails were very narrow tire tracks (only 6-8 inches wide) and I found that quick riding helped keep me on the track.  Every so often the tire would turn and it was easy to slip and go down.  When this happened, my right foot would come down quickly and hit the road and straighten me out.  A few times though, the foot missed the trail and went into the snow beside where it quickly sunk down deep and I experienced what the veteran's called "pole holing".  All 3 times it happened I went right over on my right side with the bike coming pretty much on top of me.  And lucky for me, all with an audience around that seemed to enjoy my predicament.  Let me tell you, it isn't the easiest getting back up again.  So it basically was a step, a miss, a roll, a tangle and a struggle to get upright again.  But each time it happened, brought another smile to my face.  I really had fun.
A few miles of road after the trails and soon we were pulling into St. Pierre-Jolys.

Checkpoint 1: Sugar Shack
Check in.  Hit the bathroom then stuffed my face with delicious banana bread.  The volunteers were very helpful and encouraging. Gulped back a few glasses of water.  Check out and on the road.

This was a short leg until the next check point.  Mostly gravel road riding until a couple miles before the checkpoint which followed a forest trail.  I think this was on Hudderite land (as this is where the checkpoint was) and they had it nicely plowed.  It meandered through bush, up a bit of a muddy hill then to the colony building to the checkpoint.

Checkpoint 2: Crystal Springs
These folks also know how to spoil us riders.  Homemade everything; bread, jam, cookies, muffins.  I had some spelt sourdough bread with jam and a cookie.  Hubby had coffee, a slice of bread and took a couple cookies for the road.  Wish I would have had the insight to grab a couple for my pocket also.  We heard as we were pulling away that they were lighting up the bbque to cook some ribs.  Oh man, so tempting.

I heard a couple veterans say they wanted to hit the trail to get past a rough muddy patch sooner rather than later so we were motivated to follow suit.

After riding was on gravel for a bit into the wind so I was ready for a change.  Not sure I was ready for the change I got though.  Came to the end of a road with a dead end sign and the garmin and cue sheets indicated no turning right nor left but to continue going straight.  Across a field.  For a long ways.  Pushing.  In every direction. And no, I am not exaggerating.  It was a crazy path that had us going all over the place.  The good part was that the snow wasn't especially deep as the wind had blown a lot of it off and the field was still kinda frozen so walking was not too difficult.  Not too much pole holing.
Doesn't it look like it goes on forever?

Thoughts of the perogies and sausage that would be waiting for us at the next checkpoint in Niverville kept me occupied through this walking patch.  Figured once we hit the gravel we were clear sailing from then on.
But just around the corner was when the real fun would begin.

The next 3-4 miles was on a dirt road (Crown Valley Road) with no gravel, much like the one in the picture above,  that had no snow and wasn't froze at all.  So pure mud.  And not the messy, goppy kind but the kind that sticks to everything.  Couldn't ride or barely walk on the road and couldn't walk in the deep snow in the ditch so we tried to stick to the edge of the road as best as we could. It still took many stops to unplug the mud from around the tires or chain as it was so thick, the tires were totally bunged up and wouldn't even turn.  My feet had gotten wet with all the pushing through the snow from the patch before and now I could feel the mud seeping in as well.  I wore winter boots that were not waterproof but honestly didn't ever think I would worry about getting wet.  I had toe warmers in each pocket and extra in my bag as I anticipated cold feet.  I knew I needed to come up with a plan in Niverville to fix my feet up to survive the second half of the adventure.  Wished I had taken a picture of the conditions but I was so focused and busy that it didn't even occur to me until it was in the rear view mirror.

Finally, we reached the end of the mud road and Terry was there waiting for us 2 girls to help us carry our now 50 pound heavier bikes across to the other side.  We caught up with a couple other riders who were also struggling with the enormous weight of their bikes.  The road on the other side was still muddy but there was more water on the road and as long as you rode through the water part, the mud wasn't as bad.  And it didn't last long, thank goodness.  I was totally exhausted though.  It took us 1 1/2 hours longer than expected and I was needed some fueling up.  I just told myself to think about eating and drinking and fixing my feet and I would take it from there.

Checkpoint 3: Niverville

We pulled into the check point to a huge pool of water with the fire truck parked in the lot.  We figured it was there to hose us and our dirty bikes off.  We were so dirty, we were embarrassed to go inside because we would make such as mess but the volunteers that checked us in assured us we were fine.
The delicious smell of perogies and sausage greeted us and my need for food went into overdrive.  And it did not disappoint.

I hunted through my back bag and through Terry's back bag looking for my extra socks but couldn't find them.  (Realized later that they were in his front bag by the tire that was completely covered in mud) So I was lucky enough to get an extra pair from my riding friend Sue.  I used 2 plastic shopping bags and put those over my freshly socked feet then tied the tops and into my wet boots they went.  Duct tape around the top would have been best but didn't have any along and didn't ask anyone else.

 This stop took us 20 min before checking out; the longest but necessary.  We were joined by another rider for awhile until he told us to go ahead while he made some adjustments.  I think we all were pretty sluggish for quite a few miles.  Patiently waiting for the food to kick in.
Mostly gravel riding and quite a lot of it into the wind.  We reached the dike by St. Adolphe and needed to do some walking off and on until we reached the next check in.

Checkpoint 4: St. Adolphe Senior Center
I think this was the shortest check stop time wise. Sue used the washroom but we were in and out, 2 min flat.

 Pretty much gravel riding until we got to Schapansky Road.  It was mentioned in conversation that this part could be challenging.  It was a mud road much like the other but had 1 big difference; it was slightly frozen along the edge so it was rideable.  Rough but no pushing and no mud build up around the tires.  It was hard to start once you stopped so I found I had to really concentrate hard and hold tight to the handle bars and just pedal to not stop or slip or fall.  It was about 2-3 miles long.  We were greeted by a gentleman with water who told us the good news that we had about only 3 more miles until pavement.  The road ahead seemed better so this was good news.  After 1/2 mile, we came to the trail part of the Crow Wing Trail that would lead us to the floodway.

I appreciated the encouraging words of only 3 miles to pavement and was also thankful we weren't told that 3 miles would take us more than an hour of hard walking and pushing.  The snow was very soft and travel was slow.  There was a lot of pole holing in this section also.  It took time.  We were met again by a crew with water but we stopped only to gulp some liquid and took off.  We crossed the floodway (walking) but upon reaching the other side, traveled by paved road or paths as we were in the outside of the city.

My feet were once again soaked.  So much walking had shuffled the bags off my feet and now with the sun setting, I was starting to get a bit cool.  And to take that to the next level, there was so much water along the sidewalks and bike paths that water just sprayed up each time and it wasn't long and my butt and legs were pretty wet also.  We meandered in and out of neighbourhoods on paths and streets before making our way to the University of Manitoba check point.  Terry was leading at this point and continued to do so until we reached the end.  There are a lot of turns and he had really studied the map to know which way to go in the city.  We were happy following along.

Checkpoint 5: University of Manitoba
Spent a few minutes here grabbing some food (cheesies, dill pickle chips and strawberries- interesting choice I know), using the washroom and double checking the streets we needed to be on to make our way to the finish.  Terry had the map loaded on his bike garmin but it just went dead.  I had the map loaded on my phone but didn't have a constant visual of it (no holder on the bike) so we went by memory and cue sheets.
They informed us that the final portion on the river was still open but there was some slush in areas.  Sue and I had already discussed earlier in the day that we wanted to take the alternative bike path beside the river rather than being on the river.
We needed our bike lights from this point on and I noticed that my light wasn't as bright as the others.  Being on flash mode all day obviously wore down some battery. At this point though, with Terry leading, Sue behind him, me and then Thomas, all with good lights and with the street lights, I was seeing fine.  My logical thinking had left the room though.  I was a bit confused about where we were and where we needed to be.  At one point, I was sure we were going the wrong way.  But I kept following and trying to remember what street met with what to get a grip on where I was.  It wasn't long and we were close to the river and we encountered a real slippery section of path where you could go down on the river or along a small bush trail for a bit to meet up with a bike path.  Thomas said he was going down to the river path to check it out.  He yelled that it was fine and no slush but Sue and I told Terry we wanted to stay on the alternate path and he was good with that.  A couple falls each along the very slippery bush trail but we made it to the bike path which took us across a brightly lite bridge and all of a sudden there we were; at The Forks.  A circle around to find the finish line which we rode under then on the street around to the other side to a small outdoor fire pit next to the room where the final check in was.

 WE WERE DONE!!  I couldn't believe it.  I hoped I could do this, visualized this moment of finishing but wasn't completely convinced it would actually happen.  12 hours almost to the exact minute.  Coming into the event not really knowing what the time would be like, I estimated 10-14 hours based on the finishing times from the past couple years.  Sue estimated around 10 hours (at the start of the day before we hit the mud).  So pretty close estimations.

Me, Thomas, Sue and Terry
Thank goodness pictures don't do justice sometimes as most of us didn't have a piece of clothing that wasn't pretty muddy and all of us had wet feet.  Our backs were totally mud covered.  I see our smiling faces and those cold/wet feet just kinda fade away.

They had a few snacks at the finish and I picked up a couple GORP bars to snack on.  We didn't hang around long but headed back to the hotel.  We didn't know what to do with our bikes.  Sue and I were going to go up to the room to get our vehicle keys though the idea of putting such muddy bikes in our vehicles wasn't too appealing.  We were met in the lobby by a hotel employee who told us they would store our bikes in a room just behind the front desk.  We were so thankful as it isn't ideal sticking freshly mudded bikes in a vehicle in downtown Winnipeg overnight.  

Showered up and met Sue back in the lobby in an hour to go grab some real food back at The Forks. Checked in at the finish area to get any updates on how everyone else was making out as we had a few updates of a few more pulling out because of the tough conditions.  

An amazing hamburger filled the need for some real gut filling food.  

And once the stomach is full- you know what happens next.  I NEED SLEEP!  Back to the hotel just after 10 and into bed.  

What a day, what an event!

The most important thing in all of this was the realization once again that going outside my comfort zone and having an adventure is embracing everything I want my life to be. 

I am so fortunate to have spent the day not only challenging myself, but having this experience with my husband.  

 I met so many amazing people and not just people you say hi to that day and never see again, but email, facebook, cell phone connections with people.  
And I am so thankful for the warmer temperatures, despite the challenging mud conditions that this brought as it took the fear of freezing to death out of the equation and I was able to get to know other people, especially the 1 gal I rode pretty much the whole day with.  We spent a lot of the road riding side by side talking and we wouldn't have been doing that if it was -40C.  

The event was organized well, the check point volunteers were amazing with great food, encouragement and assistance.  The self supporting part was a challenge when you are not familiar with the various roads and areas.  There was quite a few times in the day I wasn't sure where I was geographically.  You have to trust the maps and do your homework and study to be prepared.

Points to consider:
-I wouldn't carry much food next time as the checkpoints all had food except at checkpoint 4 St Adolphe.  Trail mix is sufficient as it is easily accessible in your pocket in a sandwich bag.  Small snickers bars were really good too.  
-Have a smaller/cheaper front white flashing light as well as rear red flashing light on during the day when it is manditory and save the big guns for after dark when you really need them.  So 2 lights for front and back would be ideal.
-I saw some people with small cue cards maybe 4 x 6 size (that can be laminated or not) that were attached to the front of the bike with tie straps and each time you were finished with the turns for that card, you ripped it off to get to the next one.  I also had the gps on my phone and garmin but actually having the cue cards right in front would be nice.
-I didn't drink any coffee or have any caffeinated drinks with me on the bike.  Coffee was available at all the checkpoints. 
-With warmer temperatures ( -5 ish to + whatever) thin wool gloves would be ideal for riding.  Mitts were too much and bare hands got sore after awhile. 
-I don't  have a frame bag yet and it will be more ideal to have one to store those things you need to grab quickly- extra socks, headlight, plastic bags (for wet feet))
-If it is really cold, I would keep my warm insulating jacket with me and wear it in the morning to the event instead of packing it in the bag on the bike.  I had plenty of time in the morning after being dropped off to repack some of those things.  It wasn't cold so it was no problem but if it was colder, I would have been very chilly with just my wind shell on.
-Buy some boots made for these kinds of things as wet, cold feet are a killer.
-Gaiters are also on the purchase list.  Almost everyone had them on and it looked like they were the difference between muddy, wet, cold feet and legs or not.

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